How to learn English at home: 35 tips for faster results

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:

Study English at home

  1. 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.
  1. 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?
  1. 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
  1. 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:

Improve English at home

  1. 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 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.
  1. 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. 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.
  1. 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! 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.
  2. 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:

  1. 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!
  1. 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 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!
  1. 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.
  1. 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. 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!

How to learn English speaking at home

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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. 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!
  1. 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 (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!

Tips to learn English at home

  1. 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.
  2. 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 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.

  1. 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!
  2. 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!

  1. 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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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 and provide occasional free accommodation to visiting tourists in exchange for some English speaking practice.
  6. 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 or a similar online store in your country. Here are some good ones to look out for: Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, Guess Who?, Monopoly, etc.
  7. 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:

Ways to learn English at home

  1. 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 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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 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:

Speaking English at home

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.

Make vs. Do: Learn The Difference With 140+ Expressions And Examples


What is the difference between make and do?

Make or do? – that is the question! These two short words are famous for confusing learners of English. Most errors appear where there are differences in how and when ‘make’ and ‘do’ are used in English vs. your native language. Let’s look at some basic theory to understand the general meaning of ‘make’ vs. ‘do’ in English.

Difference between make and do

How to use MAKE

I make – He/She makes – We/They make
I will make – I am making – I made – I have made

The verb make is used when talking about creation or production in a process. In other words, it is used to refer to the result of an action. For example: ‘Make a cup of tea’, ‘Make plans for the future’ or ‘Make a model boat out of wood’.

Made can be used to indicate the material of a product. For example, we can say that a spoon is ‘made of steel’. In this case, we would say made, as in the past tense of make. The creation has already taken place and now the spoon is made of steel.

How to use DO

I do – She/He does – They/We do
I will do – I am doing – I did – I have done

The verb ‘do’ is used when we talk about tasks, duties, obligations and routine work. It refers to the process of carrying out these actions. This verb is similar to the formal words perform or execute (as in: execute a command). For example: ‘I did my homework yesterday evening.’ (completed task).

Another use of the verb do is to replace a different verb in the context of a clear or straightforward result. For example: ‘Do the dishes’ (vs. wash the dishes). ‘Do my hair’ means cut, dye, style or perform another similar action on my hair. The word ‘do’ can also be used for recreational and individual sports, such as martial arts. For example: ‘Do karate twice a week’ (take part in this sporting activity, perhaps by attending a class).

Native speakers often use ‘do’ in the way described above. If you want your English to sound more natural, then you should learn how to use ‘do’ as a substitute for other verbs. Read on to find more examples of this!

Remember that ‘do’ can be used as an auxiliary verb in questions and for added emphasis. In these contexts, it is not used to mean ‘performing an action’.

Do in questions: In ‘Do you like music?’ the word ‘do’ is just used to indicate a question. ‘You like music.’ would be a fact. Learners often make the mistake of leaving out the ‘do’ in English questions because in their own language rising intonation is enough. Only in informal English is this possible where the context is 100% clear. For example, just: ‘Coffee?’ (when you are about to pour a cup and you are asking for your friend’s permission).

Do for emphasis: In ‘Lucy thinks I don’t love her, but I do. I really do!’ the use of ‘do’ shows the contradiction between what Lucy thinks and what the speaker feels.
In summary, ‘do’ usually refers to the process and ‘make’ refers to the result or creative aspect of the process. For example, you would do some cooking (process), but you would make dinner (result).

140+ Collocations with make or do

Collocations with MAKE

Phrasal verbs using do

  • Make a demand (= Ask for something in an authoritative manner)
    ‘Several bank staff are being held hostage and the robbers are now making demands.’
  • Make an objection (= Complain or dispute something)
    ‘If anyone would like to make an objection, please raise your hand now.’
  • Make a complaint (= State unhappiness)
    ‘The angry customer made a complaint to the company’s head office.’
  • Make a phone call (= Call someone on the phone)
    ‘I need to make a quick phone call. Can I use your landline?’
  • Make enquiries (= Ask about a subject, request information)
    ‘I’m thinking about joining a local company, but I still need to make some enquiries.’
  • Make an offer (= Suggest, put forward a proposal)
    I was going to put my house on the market, but then a friend made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.’
  • Make an agreement (= Reach consensus, create legislation)
    ‘Politicians at the summit are eager to make an agreement on climate change.’
  • Make a comment (= Briefly give your opinion)
    ‘I would like to make a comment on the issue of social housing.’
  • Make a remark (= Comment in a spontaneous manner)
    ‘The journalist made a sarcastic remark about the politician’s personal fortune.’

In many cases, the use of ‘make’ in “communicative collocations” creates a higher level of formality. In everyday conversation, it is more common to use the noun as a verb in place of the formal collocation. For example, instead of ‘make an agreement’ or ‘make a comment’, you can just say ‘(to) agree on’ or ‘(to) comment on’.

  • Make a speech (= Speak publicly on a topic)
    ‘At British weddings, it is customary for the father of the bride to make a speech.’
  • Make a fuss (= Complain, worry unnecessarily, give affectionate attention)
    ‘I wish my husband wouldn’t make such a fuss every time I go out with my friends!’
    ‘My grandma always made a fuss of us as children.’ (Positive – loved and spoiled them)
  • Make an excuse (= Justify an action)
    ‘The boss made an excuse and left the meeting early.’
  • Make a point (= State an argument, advocate an idea)
    ‘John made some good points in his presentation, but I didn’t agree with everything he said.’
  • Make an observation (= Give your view on a topic, state what you have noticed)
    ‘Following our exam results, the teacher made several observations about our lack of progress!’

  • Make a suggestion (= Put forward an idea, share an opinion to help others)
    ‘Could I make a suggestion? Perhaps red curtains would go better with this wallpaper.’
  • Make conversation (= Talk to others, sometimes about trivial matters)
    ‘When I asked about his new job, I was just making conversation.’(No real interest)
  • Make contact (= Find and establish communication)
    ‘After a 5-year absence, Mary’s brother finally made contact with her via Facebook.’
  • Make a noise/sound (= Produce a sound)
    ‘I thought the dishwasher was broken because it was making a strange noise.’
  • Make an exception (= Agree to break the rules in one instance)
    ‘We don’t normally allow dogs in here, but I suppose we can make an exception this time.’
  • Make it clear (= Ensure something is understood by all)
    ‘I’d like to make it clear that all new staff are expected to attend our weekly meetings.’
  • Make a cake (= Bake a cake)
    ‘My mum makes me a cake for my birthday every year.’
  • Make spaghetti (= Cook spaghetti, could also mean to make it from raw ingredients)
    ‘The Italians make the world’s most fantastic fresh spaghetti!’ (Make from scratch)
    ‘I’m making spaghetti for dinner. Would you like some?’ (Cooking)
  • Make a cup of tea (= Brew tea, make a cuppa)
    ‘Work has been an absolute nightmare today! Make me a nice cuppa, would you?’
  • Make a snack (= Prepare a snack)
    ‘Dave was supposed to be on a diet, but I found him in the kitchen making a snack!’
  • Make a meal (= Cook a meal, make breakfast/lunch/dinner)
    ‘Would you mind making some meals for my granddad while I’m away on holiday?’
    ‘I’ll make dinner tonight if you make breakfast tomorrow morning, ok?’

In British English, we say ‘make a meal of (something)’ to mean: do it very badly. For example, ‘I asked John to fix the back door, but he made a complete meal of it!’ – the result might be that now the door is broken or needs to be fixed by a professional.

  • Make money (= Earn money)
    ‘I heard that if you start your own business, you can make some serious money!’
    ‘There are many ways to make money. Robbing a bank is just one of them!’
  • Make a bid (= Compete to buy at auction/tender, attempt to get)
    ‘Our company made a bid on a large commercial property at an auction last week.’
    ‘Our charity is in the process of making a bid for additional government grants.’
  • Make a trade (= Perform stock market operation, exchange)
    ‘With current stock market volatility, it’s hard to know exactly when to make a trade.’
  • Make a loss (= Loose money in a business context)
    ‘If a company makes a loss, it can be in danger of running up debts or going bankrupt.’
  • Make a profit (= Gain money in a business context)
    ‘If our firm makes a profit this year, I will get a 10% bonus!’
  • Make a fortune (= Become rich by earning money)
    ‘I friend of mine has recently made a fortune in the property business.’
  • Make an investment (= Put in capital in order to gain profit later)
    ‘Our company has made several key investments in the Middle East this year.’
  • Make a living (= Earn enough money to cover expenses)
    ‘How do British expats make a living in Spain if they don’t speak the language?’
  • Make a name for yourself (= Form a reputation)
    ‘Jessica has really made a name for herself. You should see her sales figures this quarter!’
  • Make a law (= Set a rule, introduce new legislation)
    ‘The government has made a law to stop people smoking in the workplace.’
  • Make room/way (= Accommodate, compromise to make something fit)
    ‘I’m super busy this week! Any chance you could make room for me on the 16th?’
    ‘Several older members of staff have been fired to make way for the new recruits.’
  • Make a payment (= Pay for something)
    ‘I need to make a payment using a business debit card, but your website isn’t working!’
  • Make (someone) smile/laugh (= Cause to smile or laugh)
    ‘John’s a funny guy! When we’re down the pub, he always makes me laugh.’
  • Make (someone) happy/sad/angry (= Cause to feel)
    ‘The council’s decision to close the library has made local residents really angry.’
  • Make amends (= Make reparations, rectify a wrongdoing)
    ‘Do you think convicted murderers can ever make amends for their crimes?’

When learning collocations and phrasal verbs, write down all the possible prepositions and particles they can take. For example, if you know that the correct form is ‘to make amends FOR something’, then you will not make mistakes like ‘amends to’ or ‘amends on’. Errors often appear where the English usage is different from that in your native language.

  • Make love (= Have sexual intercourse with someone you care about)
    ‘Police in Thailand have arrested two British tourists for making love on the beach!’

NOTE: It is a common mistake to say ‘make sex’. The correct form is ‘have sex’ or ‘make love’.

  • Make a move (= Make a pass at someone, also ‘leave’ in slang)
    ‘Martin really likes Sally, but he’s too shy to make a move (on her).’
    ‘It’s already 1am! Shall we make a move?’(Leave, go)
  • Make a good impression (= Show your best side)
    ‘When you go on a first date, it’s important to make a good impression (on the person).’
  • Make a promise (= Swear to do something, give your word)
    ‘When I was a kid, I made a promise to my mum. Now I still clean my room once a week!’
  • Make friends (= Become friends with someone)
    ‘Maggie’s really outgoing so she makes friends easily at home and abroad.’
  • Make a commitment (= Accept responsibility, form a binding relationship)
    ‘I really love my boyfriend, but we’ve got no future if he can’t make a commitment.’

NOTE: In the context of relationships, a ‘commitment’ could be any of the following: agreeing to only date one person, moving in with your partner, making long-term plans together, considering marriage.

  • Make a fool of yourself (= Embarrass yourself by saying or doing the wrong thing)
    ‘The goalkeeper made a fool of himself by throwing the ball into his own net!’
  • Make war/peace (= Start/stop conflict)
    ‘Some countries make war, while others make peace.’ 
  • Make an example of (= Punish one person to discourage others from doing the same)
    ‘Jon was late for school again so the teacher decided to make an example of him.’
  • Make fun of (= Joke about someone or something)
    ‘Can you please stop teasing your sister? She doesn’t like it when you make fun of her! ’ 
  • Make trouble (= Create a problem for others, antagonise)
    ‘On match days, football fans are often blamed for making trouble in the city.’
  • Make the best/most of (= Take advantage, seize the opportunity, tolerate)
    ‘Ronaldo made the most of the defender’s mistake and rounded the goalkeeper to score.’
    ‘Tomorrow’s weather isn’t great for our walk, but we’ll just have to make the most of it.’

A funny example of a confusing expression in English is ‘to make do’? This expression uses ‘make’ and ‘do’! It means: to cope or manage with few resources or to get by with what you have.

  • Make a decision (= Decide, choose, come to a conclusion)
    ‘Are you coming with us to Spain? You really need to make a decision by next weekend.’
  • Make (something) happen (= Cause to happen)
    ‘The authorities still don’t know what made this terrible tragedy happen.’
    ‘We’ve only got 24 hours to complete this project. Let’s make it happen, people!’
  • Make up your mind (= Decide on something, choose)
    ‘Michelle is still dating two different guys because she can’t make up her mind!’ 
  • Make an exception (= Allow a rule to be broken due to special circumstances)
    ‘We don’t usually allow babies in the pool, but I’ll ask if we can make an exception.’ 
  • Make an attempt (= Try to do something)
    ‘Mike made an attempt to look interested, but physics wasn’t really his subject.’
  • Make a judgement (= Analyse a situation, give an opinion)
    ‘It is difficult to make objective judgements about foreign policy issues.’ 
  • Make an effort (= Work hard to achieve a goal, attempt)
    ‘You need to make an effort if you want to pass your exams this summer!’
  • Make progress (= Advance, develop)
    ‘I really feel like I’m making progress with my book. It should be ready to publish soon!’
  • Make a plan (= Agree on a course of action)
    ‘If you want to be successful in business, then first you need to make a plan.’
  • Make time (= Set aside time for something/someone)
    ‘I’d love to go to the gym, but I just can’t make time at the moment!’
    ‘Work’s been taking over recently! I really need to make more time for my kids.’ 
  • Make a difference (= Have an effect on)
    ‘Curtis is so stubborn! You can try to persuade him, but it won’t make any difference.’
    ‘I want to find a job where I can make a difference to people’s lives.’
  • Make a change (= Start something new, change your life or behaviour)
    ‘I’ve been living in London for 2 years, but now I feel it’s time to make a change.’
  • Make sure/certain (= Ensure something is as it should be)
    Make sure you take your passport to the airport. Don’t forget it like you did last time!’
  • Make the bed (= Make fit for use/sleep, tidy up)
    ‘I’ll make the bed if you go downstairs and make breakfast.’
  • Make a mess (= Create an untidy, dirty or disorganised situation)
    ‘If you give kids brushes and paint, they are bound to make a mess!’
    ‘My boss has made a total mess of this paperwork! I’ll have to do it all again tomorrow.’

How to use make or do

  • Make a dress (= Create or sew a dress)‘
    My friend Gill made her own wedding dress and it looked fantastic!’ 
  • Make furniture (= Create furniture through carpentry or woodwork)‘
    My grandfather used to make furniture for a living. These days it’s all made in factories.’
  • Make a copy (= Duplicate, create a copy of something)
    ‘I love this album! Can you make me a copy?’ 
  • Make a new product (= Invent, think up)
    ‘Apple is always making new products. That’s what makes it such a great tech company.’
  • Make steel wire (= Manufacture)
    ‘This factory used to make steel wire, but it closed due to competition from overseas.’
  • Make a fire (= Build and light a fire)
    ‘When trying to survive in the wilderness, the first thing to do is make a fire.’
  • Make a wish (= Will something to happen, hope something will come true)
    ‘When you blow out the candles on your birthday cake, don’t forget to make a wish!’’
  • Make believe (= Imaginary, fantasy, ideal but not real)
    ‘The government has promised to invest in public services, but that’s just make believe!’
    Alice in Wonderland is a children’s book that is set in a make-believe world.’ (Adjective)
  • Make sense (= Be sensible, reasonable, understood)
    ‘I don’t think it makes sense to earn a lot of money if you then have no time to enjoy it.’
    ‘Did you have a bit to drink last night? You weren’t making any sense on the phone!’ 
  • Make a discovery (= Find something new, invent, realise)
    ‘Scientists from NASA have made a new discovery on Mars!’

Watch out for collocations that allow the use of ‘make’ AND ‘do’. These are rare, but you should learn them. For example, ‘Do a presentation’ (conduct/perform) vs. ‘Make a presentation’ (same meaning, or emphasises its creation) or ‘make the bed’ (Standard English) vs. ‘do the bed’ (colloquial).

  • Make a visit (Go to, travel to)
    ‘The Queen will make a state visit to France while she is in Europe.’ 
  • Make a booking/reservation (= Reserve a place)
    ‘I’d like to make a reservation. Do you have any availability on Sunday the 25th at 7pm?’
  • Make an appointment (= Schedule an individual consultation or meeting)
    ‘All patients wishing to make an appointment should phone to book in advance.’ 
  • Make arrangements (= Organise or plan something)
    ‘I’ve made arrangements for the kids to stay with my parents over the weekend.’
  • Make a cancellation (= Annul a previous booking or appointment)
    ‘Hello, I’m phoning to make a cancellation. My order number is…’
  • Make a list (= Have an agenda of tasks)
    ‘My wife has made a list of all the things I’ve done wrong. As you can imagine, it’s quite long!’
  • Make a journey (= Travel somewhere)
    ‘To raise money for charity, Jan is planning to make a journey from the UK to Mongolia!’
  • Make it (= Get to a place, attend)
    ‘I’m really busy next weekend, but I’ll do my best to make it to the party!’
    ‘I’m afraid I’m not going to make it back in time for dinner.’(Get home)

NOTE: We can also use ‘make’ to mean: get into or deserve a place in. For example, ‘John made the first team’ (won a place in the team through his performance) or ‘The car accident made the headlines’ (was included in the news). John did not create or form the team, nor did the car accident write the headlines.

Collocations with DO

Make and do exercises

  • Do the dishes/washing/ironing (= Wash the dishes, wash and iron clothes)
    ‘I really hate doing the dishes, but I don’t mind mowing the lawn.’
  • Do housework (= Perform routine cleaning/tidying around the house)
    ‘Women still do the majority of housework in the UK, and that’s not fair!’
  • Do the shopping (= Buy food and household goods)
    ‘We do the shopping once a week at a large supermarket.’
  • Do it yourself (= DIY, perform amateur repairs or renovation work yourself)
    ‘I only learned to do DIY when I bought my first house. It needed a lot of work!’
  • Do your nails (= Have a manicure)
    ‘Do you do your own nails or do you go to a beauty salon?’
  • Do your makeup (= Put on cosmetics)
    ‘How long does it take for you to do your makeup in the morning?’
  • Do 60 miles per hour (= Drive or travel at 60 mph)
    ‘When I commute to London, I want to be doing 70 (mph), but I’m usually stuck in traffic!’
  • Do maths/biology/English (= Study a subject)
    ‘What’s your son doing at school now? Mine is doing A-Level Maths and Biology?’
  • Do homework (= Complete tasks given by your teacher)
    ‘When I was at school, all the kids used to do their homework on the bus in the morning!’
  • Do an exercise (= Complete a study or training task)
    ‘The Biology teacher asked us to do an exercise from the textbook.’
  • Do a crossword (= Complete a crossword puzzle)
    ‘I like doing crosswords on the train.’
  • Do a quiz (= Play a game in which you have to answer questions on a topic)
    ‘My parents do a quiz at the local pub every Wednesday night.’
  • Do a translation (= Convert from one language to another)
    ‘On the final exam, you have to do a translation from French into English.’
  • Do research (= Investigate a topic, study in depth)
    ‘British cancer specialists are currently doing research into cell regeneration.’
  • Do some studying (= Learn something, revise)
    ‘I really need to do some studying because I’m behind on my uni work!’
  • Do an essay (= Complete an assignment)
    ‘Will I have to do any essays as part of the English course?’
  • Do a test/exam (= Evaluate, check knowledge)
    ‘I disagree with scientists doing tests on lab rats. It’s so cruel!’
    ‘Are you doing your exams this week or next?’
  • Do a task (= Solve a problem, perform a job)
    ‘The teacher asked us to do a task on reading comprehension.’
  • Do a course (= Attend a class or study programme)
    ‘If I have time, I’d like to do a Spanish course abroad next summer.’

The word ‘do’ can be used informally as a noun in British English when referring to a social event or party. For example, ‘Are you going to Mike’s birthday do next Saturday?’ or ‘There’s a do on at the local (pub) this weekend, if you fancy it.’

  • Do a robbery (= Commit an armed theft)
    ‘The police were unaware that the gang was planning to do a robbery in the area.’
  • Do time (= Spend time in prison)
    ‘I guy I used to go to school with is now doing time for murder.’
  • Do drugs (= Take illegal narcotics)
    ‘At British schools they teach teenagers about the dangers of doing drugs.’
  • Do a raid (= Police attack to arrest criminals)
    ‘The police did a raid on a local warehouse early this morning.’
  • Do sport (= Engage in sports, USA = ‘play sports’)
    ‘How often do kids do sport at your school?’ (Informal)
  • Do exercise (= Train physically)
    ‘Doctors recommend you do some active physical exercise every day.
  • Do Karate/Judo (= Train in martial arts)
    ‘I used to do karate when I was a uni, but I don’t have time these days.’
  • Do gymnastics/ballet/yoga (= Perform or practise gymnastics/ballet/yoga)
    ‘My mum’s really active! She does yoga on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.’
  • Do Athletics (= Train in athletics)
    ‘I hated doing athletics at school. Now I won’t even watch the Olympics!’
  • Do a drawing (= Sketch or draw something)
    ‘My daughter did a beautiful drawing for me so I put it up on the wall at work.’
  • Do a dance (= Show your dance moves, perform a dance)
    ‘When I win a new contract a work, I always do a little victory dance for my colleagues!’
  • Do a number (= Perform a live act)
    ‘Harry did a great number at the charity talent show. I never knew he could juggle!’

NOTE: Football, rugby, cricket, basketball, tennis, etc. usually to take ‘play’ and not ‘do’.

  • What do you do? (= What is your job?)
    ‘I work for a large law firm. What do you do (for a living)?’
  • Do business (= Trade, buy or sell)
    Doing business internationally can be a real challenge.’
    ‘Our company mostly does business with local suppliers.’

In Spanish, both ‘make’ and ‘do’ can be translated as the single word ‘HACER’. Does your native language have a distinction between ‘make’ and ‘do’? Perhaps these concepts are expressed in a different way than in English.

  • Do work (= Carry out a job or task)
    ‘Can you please stop distracting me? I really need to do some work this afternoon!’
  • Do a deal (= Agree a contract or arrangement)
    ‘I heard you’re doing a deal with Sony. That’s great news for the company!’
  • Do a project (= Execute a planned set of tasks)
    ‘Our firm is doing a joint project with a company from Holland.’
  • Do your job (= Perform your work-related tasks)
    ‘If you do your job well, you can expect a nice bonus at the end of the year.’
  • Do an operation (= Perform a surgical procedure)
    ‘Doctor Pearce was in theatre doing an operation so I called another member of staff.’
  • Do an experiment (= Carry out an experiment)
    ‘We’re doing an experiment at work to examine the effects of stress on productivity.’
  • Do paperwork (= Carry out bureaucratic admin tasks)
    ‘I’m responsible for doing most of the paperwork in our family business.’
  • Do the accounts/books (= Perform accounting work)
    ‘I’m no good with numbers so I get an accountant to do my books once a year.’
  • Do a talk (= Give a public presentation or speech)
    ‘Our local school has invited me in to do a talk about career opportunities in London.’
  • Do a presentation (= Conduct a formal talk on a subject)
    ‘I’m super nervous because I have to do a presentation at our next conference.’
  • Do overtime (= Stay late to work more)
    ‘Julie is off sick so I have to do overtime all this week to cover for her.’
  • Do your best (= Try your hardest)
    ‘I know you didn’t have enough time to revise for the exam, but just do your best!
  • Do good (= Perform an act of kindness, be of benefit to your health)
    ‘Charities in Africa think they’re doing good, but perhaps that’s not always the case.’
    ‘You should get out in the fresh air more. It would do you good!’

The noun ‘do-gooder’ is a negative term for a person who tries to help others, but is seen to be an interfering nuisance. We can also use the funny expression ‘goodie-two-shoes’ about a person who tries to be good and follow the rules all the time!

  • Do the right thing (= Act in a morally correct way)
    ‘Divorces are never easy, but I’m sure you’ll both do the right thing by your kids.’
  • Do your duty (= Fulfil your responsibility)
    ‘Soldiers need to do their duty to their country in times of war.’
  • Do a favour (= Help another person)
    ‘Can you do me a big favour and pick the kids up from school tomorrow?’
  • Do something right/wrong (= Carry out an action correctly/incorrectly)
    ‘You must have done something wrong because now the computer isn’t working at all.’
    ‘Beautiful wife, smart kids, great job…you must be doing something right!’ (In life)
  • Do well/badly (= Perform well/badly)
    ‘Mary did well in her exams, but her brother did badly (in his exams).’ 
  • Do harm (= Hurt, injure)
    ‘It wouldn’t do you any harm to help me with the housework once in a while!’ 
  • Do damage (= Harm someone or something)
    ‘The accident did some serious damage to the side of my car!’
  • Do a lot (= Perform frequently, make a valuable contribution)
    ‘George does a lot for the local community through his volunteer work.’
    ‘Do you do a lot of cycling during the week?’
  • Do the (bare) minimum (= Put minimum effort into something)
    ‘When it comes to tidying the office, my colleagues always do the bare minimum!’
  • Do it to the max (= Put maximum effort into something, enjoy to the full)
    ‘If you only go clubbing once a year, then you might as well do it to the max!’
  • Do anything (= Perform any action, sacrifice it all)
    ‘Honestly, I haven’t done anything! It was all Lucy’s fault.’
    ‘I would do literally anything to meet Brad Pitt!’
  • Do everything (= Complete all tasks, try your hardest)
    ‘I promise to do everything I can to help.’
  • Do nothing (= Be idle, ignore)
    ‘My favourite hobby is doing nothing.’


Phrasal verbs with make and do

Phrasal verbs with MAKE


a) Imagine, think up, invent, lie

‘If you don’t know the answer, then just make one up!’
‘I really believed my son’s story about the broken window, but he had just made it up.’

b) Make peace after an argument, reconcile

‘I had an argument with my wife, but we’ve made up now.’
‘Has Mike made up with Chloe? I know they had a fight last week.’

c) Decide, choose (make up one’s mind)

‘There’s so much choice that I can’t make up my mind which ice cream to get!’
‘Will you please make up your mind? We haven’t got all day!’

d) Constitute, consist of (scientific/formal)

‘A car engine is made up of many different components.’
‘This social committee is made up of 12 community representatives.’

In everyday conversation, it is more common to say ‘made of’. For example, ‘What’s your guitar made of – wood or fibre glass?’. We can also move the material type into the adjective position, as in: ‘wooden guitar’ or ‘glass vase’. Only use ‘made up of’ in scientific or formal contexts.

e) Compensate for, add missing money/time

‘If you pay your share of the bill, then I will make up the difference.’
‘I was off work with a cold last week so now I’m making up the time by staying late.’
‘Sorry I didn’t get to your birthday! I promise I’ll make it up to you next time I’m in town.’
‘If I make a mistake a work, then I always try to make up for it after.’

f) Put on cosmetics

‘June liked to make herself up before going to the theatre.’
‘My girlfriend won’t leave the house without putting her makeup on!’ (Noun)

g) Prepare a room or bed for a guest

‘Robert’s coming to stay tomorrow so we need to make up the spare room.’
‘Have you made (up) the guest bed for Robert yet?’


a) Understand, comprehend (with difficulty)

‘She couldn’t make out what he was saying (due to the noise).’
‘Steve is such a weird guy! I just can’t make him out.’
‘Why are English trains always late? I just can’t make it out!
‘I could just about make out her writing, even though the letter was old and faded.’

b) Complete and sign over to

‘Richard made the cheque out to his son.’
‘The old man made out a will to his next of kin.’

c) Pretend, give a false impression

‘Some famous rappers make out they are real gangsters.’
‘The art thief made out that the fake copy was an original.’

d) Engage in sexual activity or intercourse (USA, informal)

‘The young couple were making out in the car when the police arrived.’


Think, understand, conclude

‘I’m not sure what to make of this!’ (I don’t know what to conclude, don’t understand it)
‘What do you make of this student’s poor attendance?’ (What is your opinion?)


Leave quietly, escape with a stolen item

‘We caught a brief glimpse of the tiger before it made off into the dark jungle.’
‘The burglar made off with a flat screen TV and some cash.’


Change into, turn into, transform

‘We plan to make our attic into an art studio.’
‘Worrying about your problems all the time will make you into a nervous wreck!’


a) Transfer ownership

‘I will make this house over to you before I die.’

b) Remodel, improve the appearance of something or someone

‘On the TV dating show, the 3 contestants were given a free makeover.’ (Noun)
‘Our house is in a bad condition, but we plan to make it over.’ (USA)


Go towards, try to escape

‘If you make for the valley, then you’ll be back at the campsite by nightfall.’
‘The frightened kitten made for the door, but it was closed.’

Phrasal verbs with DO


a) Improve condition of, renovate

‘We’ve bought a new house, but need to do it up before we can move in.
‘They really should do up the local school! It has been neglected for years.’

If you are buying a house in the UK, you can save a lot of money by choosing a “doer-upper”. This is a slang term for a house that you need to ‘do up’ or renovate. Properties like this are usually much cheaper, but require some hard work and investment.

b) Fasten, close

‘It’s getting cold. Do up your coat!’
‘We’re not driving anywhere until you do your seatbelt up!’


Fix up, renovate, decorate

‘They’ve had their kitchen done out in green tiles and marble worktops.’


Take away unfairly, prevent someone receiving what is rightfully theirs

‘Maggie’s relatives have secretly done her out of a large inheritance.’


Relate to, be connected with

‘I think tectonic plates have something to do with earthquakes, don’t they?’
‘Can you please mind your own business? This has nothing to do with you!’


Continue or live without something or someone

‘I’ve had my dog Sammy for 10 years. Now I just can’t do without him!’
‘If you don’t want to eat what I’ve cooked, then you can just do without!’ (Not eat anything)


a) Repeat, do again

‘This assignment is no good at all! You’ll have to do it over.’ (USA)

b) Beat up

‘The thief claims that the police did him over in his cell.’


Belittle, criticise, put down

‘I don’t think my boss likes me. He’s always trying to do me down!’
Note: ‘Put down’ is more common in British English.


Get rid of, abolish, remove

‘They are doing away with diesel cars. In the future, no one will manufacture them.’
‘The UK government has voted to do away with fox hunting.’

Practice tips and links to exercises

In this guide, you have seen over 160 combinations (collocations and phrasal verbs) with the words ‘make’ and ‘do’. However, learning them all is easier said than done! Try the following tips and exercises to help you remember the most commonly used expressions.

Make and do

Tips to help you learn make vs. do collocations
  1. KNOW THE BASICS: If something physical or abstract is being created, then ‘make’ is the likely choice. If the context focuses on the performance of a repetitive process, then ‘do’ may be preferable.
  2. HIT THE BOOKS: Textbooks like the Phrasal Verbs in Use series (Cambridge) and Practical English Usage (M. Swan) provide clear explanations and exercises on phrasal verbs and collocations. These are good books to have in your personal English library.
  3. LEARN OVER TIME: Be selective with your choice of collocations and phrasal verbs. Only learn expressions that you are likely to use regularly when speaking, reading and writing in English. Learn a few new combinations each week and build your vocabulary over time for the best results.
  4. ASK A NATIVE: Not sure whether to use ‘make’ or ‘do’? Not clear on the meaning of a collocation or phrasal verb? Try asking a native speaker for assistance! This could be your English teacher, a friend or a member of an ESL group on Facebook.
  5. CORRECT YOUR MISTAKES: If you want to improve your fluency in English, then you need to become your own best critic! This means analysing your errors and asking questions about why your English is sometimes wrong. Whenever you make a mistake, write it down, find the correct form and make an effort to learn it!
Exercises to help you practise with ‘make’ and ‘do’ has four sets of multiple choice exercises dedicated to the differences between ‘make’ and ‘do’. Well worth a look!

BBC Learning English has some basic explanations, followed by a multiple choice list of short exercises to help you test your understanding of make vs. do.

Cambridge English has an interesting interactive set of exercises. These ask you to select ‘make’ or ‘do’ for each example. The correct answer is then displayed. has a wide range of free materials on topics related to business English. These include one page of exercises on the difference between ‘make’ and ‘do’ in a work context.

10 ways to get conversational English practice every day


Understanding English conversation: problems & solutions

If you want to converse well in English, then first you need to understand what people are saying to each other and to you. Many learners comment that it is easier to understand other non-natives in English than it is to follow conversations involving native speakers. Think about your typical conversation partners and the type of English you use most of the time. Do you communicate more with other non-natives or with native speakers? Are you exposed to more British or American English in your daily life and at work? Once you have settled on a specific branch of English, you can then find ways to focus on this more with your conversation practice.

In most cases, the English used by native speakers in the UK or USA is more complex than that used by non-natives overseas and this creates issues for ESL learners in terms of both listening comprehension and conversational usage. Take a look at these common problems and solutions to help improve your understanding of spoken English:

SPEED – Natives speak faster so you have less time to process information

Asking others to speak slower is fine at lower levels, but your longer-term goal should be to improve your processing speed. This is only possible through regular practice. One good way of getting this is by watching English TV news channels via the internet or by listening to local UK or US radio stations through a website like TuneIn.

INFORMAL – Brits and Americans use more slang and colloquial forms when speaking

If this type of language is not in your textbooks, then you need to use other resources to learn and understand it. Try watching TV series or Youtube channels and write down the new vocabulary you discover. If a usual dictionary does not contain the word or phrase, use a website like UrbanDictionary to find it.

PHRASAL – Natives commonly favour phrasal verbs over more formal vocabulary

Phrasal verbs can be difficult to learn because they often have multiple meanings and seldom follow a logical pattern. Whenever you come across a new phrasal verb (like “come across”!), write it down with a couple of examples in context. You may also wish to improve your skills by using this useful A-Z of phrasal verbs.

SPONTANEOUS – Topics of conversation change continuously and without warning

Spoken English is more spontaneous and less organised than its written equivalent. A typical British conversation might start with politics, change to football, and move on to shopping, before returning again to the topic of politics! This is a natural feature of daily conversation so, in order to participate fully, you need to practise speaking about a broad variety of subjects.

ACCENT – Pronunciation causes confusion

Within each national branch of English there are a multitude of regional accents. Most Brits and Americans speak with some form of regional dialect, which may include non-standard pronunciation (accent), vocabulary and even grammar. You can improve your listening comprehension through music and television, but it is best to use standard pronunciation when you are speaking English.

1. Find an English speaking club near you

There are over 1 billion people learning English as a foreign language in the world today so, regardless of where you live, you should always be able to find local conversation partners. Regular interaction in English, both with native and no-native speakers, helps to develop your fluency. If you want to gain more conversation practice, then you need to embrace every available opportunity. Start in your local area by looking for English speaking clubs that hold meetings weekly or monthly. Most will be free of charge, but some may have small membership fees to cover room hire and admin costs.

English conversation practice

Where to search:

  • Go to local universities, libraries, cafes and community centres. Look for any leaflets or posters adverting English conversation clubs or ask a member of staff for assistance.
  • Try searching on Facebook and other social networks for groups or pages belonging to clubs in your town. Then write to the admin to find out how to get involved.
  • Perhaps approach volunteer organisations and churches that organise free conversation groups with native speakers as a way of involving more people in their activities.

Questions to ask when joining a conversation club:

  • Is it organised by a native speaker? If not, does the club ever invite Brits, Americans or other expats to participate in its discussions? This is a big plus, although perhaps not always essential.
  • Does the club charge a membership fee and is there any hidden commercial agenda? You can expect the majority of conversation groups to be free and open to all. If the organisers are trying to sell you a commercial product, then it may be best to avoid the club.
  • How many members attend each meeting? If there are too many people, then this can limit your ability to practise your spoken English because you will spend more time listening and waiting for others.
  • What format do its meetings take? Does the club hold talks by native speakers followed by question and answer sessions, or does it have an informal round table format? Are topics chosen in advance and prepared by participants, or are discussions more spontaneous in nature?
  • How often does the club meet up? You need regular conversation practice, so this is an important point.
  • Do the other members have a similar level of English to you? If there are many weaker learners in the group, then this could hold you back. You do not want to attend an English club where members have to use their native language to compensate for their lack of fluency.

No conversation clubs in your town? Why not try to establish one yourself? Start by creating a Facebook page or group and invite some friends or colleagues who might like to practise their English speaking skills. Find a local venue to hold your meetings – most cafes and bars are more than happy to host small social events free of charge as this attracts more guests, who then buy drinks or food. You can begin with a small group of “locals” and invite a couple of native speakers who are your based in your area (see the next point to find out how!).

2. Explore your local expat community

An expat (or expatriate) is someone who chooses to lives outside his or her home country on a temporary or permanent basis. Larger cities often have a vibrant expat community with nationalities from across the globe. These expats may come from many different countries, professions and social backgrounds, but they share one thing in common – they mostly use English to communicate with each other. If you can find a way in, then you can gain valuable conversation practice and make some interesting friends!

Learn English conversation

How to find expats near you:

  • Try a Google search for “expats + name of your city”. For example, if you type in “expats Moscow”, you will see several websites like: and Explore each in turn and look for information about upcoming local events and “meet-ups”. If the website has a contacts page or forum, use this to introduce yourself and ask how you can get involved in the community.
  • Look for expat groups on Facebook using the main search bar at the top of the page. Pay attention to the number of members in each group and to the date of the latest post to see whether they are active or “dead”.
  • Approach the International Department of your local university to see if they have any expat students and social events for them that involve speaking English.
  • Visit some local branches of UK organisations (like The British Council) to find out if they hold cultural events to bring together expats and local learners of English.



3. Search for chat groups online

Start with a Google search for a phrase like “English chat group online” and then explore the list of websites in more detail. Before you get involved with any online conversation groups, you need to bear in mind that they are likely to be a) open to all internet users, and b) only partially moderated by an admin. This just means you need to watch out for members who are there to cause offence, waste time or take advantage of other users, rather than to practise their speaking skills. While most conversation groups are safe, they are not suitable for children as adult topics may be discussed and there is little control over shared content.

Spoken English conversation

Facebook is another great place to look for groups of likeminded learners who are interested in having more conversation practice in English. Use the search bar at the top of the page and type in a phrase like “English chat group”, then select the “more” tab to view the full list of results. You will find plenty of options to choose from so take a few minutes to read the descriptions and browse through the members in each group. You may want to avoid chat groups that have lots of learners from your country so that there is no temptation to use your native language instead of English. Also pay attention to the program or platform used for the actual discussions themselves – common VoIP options for larger numbers of participants are: Google Hangouts and Zoom.

Pros and cons of online conversation groups:

  • PRO: They are usually free and open to anyone who wants to converse in English
  • CON: Security and moderation can be a problem because of this “open door policy”


  • PRO: You can practise your English with interesting people from around the world
  • CON: These groups are not popular with native speakers


  • PRO: You can have plenty of different discussions on all kinds of topics
  • CON: There is no native speaker to lead these discussions or correct your mistakes

Why not give online chat groups a try and see if they are right for you?

4. Attend face-to-face conversation classes

Paying for English lessons is a great way of guaranteeing regular conversation practice each and every week. However, you should consider exactly what you require from these classes before you cough up your hard earned cash! Group classes may offer more of a social element to your studies as you will meet other learners like yourself, but a 1-to-1 course may suit you better if you are short of time and want more personalised lessons.

Tips for choosing the right conversation class:

  • Make sure the school is close to home so you are less likely to miss lessons due to work and family commitments, or opt for a private tutor who can travel to you.
  • Decide whether you would like lessons with a native English teacher or with a non-native tutor, and focus 100% on either British or American English.
  • Ask about class sizes before you sign up. If there are more students in the class, opportunities to practise your conversational English will be limited. 6-8 is a good number.
  • Choose a school with good reviews and reasonable prices. Budget for 2 lessons per week.
  • Use your conversation classes as a focal point for all of the self-study activities done outside lesson time. In other words, do not assume that you will make fast progress just because you attend a class twice a week – homework and extra practice are both essential.


5. Study conversational English with a native tutor online

If you lead a busy life and need a flexible solution that fits in around your schedule, then online English lessons could be right for you. In recent years, internet speeds have improved dramatically and VoIP programs like Skype have been adopted by the majority of computer users. If you already use Skype to communicate with your friends and family in other cities (or even countries!), then why not use it to improve your conversational English too?

Practise English speaking

Five reasons you might want to try Skype English lessons:

  • There are many more native English teachers online than there are in your local area. This means you can have access to a wider range of quality tutors who are based in the UK or USA.
  • Online lessons with a native tutor are often cheaper than face-to-face classes with a native teacher at your home or office. You can save money and travel time.
  • Personal Skype tuition is more flexible than traditional school lessons because you do not need to consider the availability of other students or follow a strict timetable.
  • Most online lessons are conducted on a 1-to-1 basis. This means you have the tutor’s full attention all of the time and can focus 100% on topics that are more relevant to you and appropriate to your level of English.
  • Live conversation classes can help ensure that you get regular practice because you can access this type of tuition from anywhere at any time.


6. Use mobile apps to fill in the gaps!

Mobile apps offer a fantastic way of gaining access to all kinds of information quickly when you are on the move. This also makes them ideal for learning, practising and using English. If you are ever in need of a quick translation or the correct pronunciation of an unfamiliar word, having the right app on your phone can be a lifesaver! While apps tend to do a great job with vocabulary, technology has not yet advanced enough for them to provide adequate conversation practice or error correction in spoken English. Therefore, it is best to use apps to help with the other English skills that “support” your conversational fluency.

Conversational English lessons

To get started, use the option on your phone to open Google Play or App Store and search for “English”, “learn English” or “English learning” to see what is available on your device. Look at the user reviews and try downloading a couple of free apps every few weeks to see which help you most with your day-to-day English. You can also check out this list of the 10 best free apps for learning English.

For quick translations on the move, try downloading the Google Translate app via your iPhone or Android device. This great app allows you to translate words and listen to how they are pronounced in English. You can also use the camera to translate signs and text, or speak into the microphone to get instant verbal translations. Remember to download your preferred language pairs for offline use.


7. Look for a language exchange partner

Some native English speakers enjoy learning foreign languages and may be interested in finding a partner like you for conversation practice. If you are a native of their target language, then it could benefit both of you to meet once or twice a week to exchange skills – one hour of English conversation for one hour in your mother tongue. This type of informal arrangement is called a “language exchange”.

Conversation classes online

Tips for finding and practising with a native English partner:

  • Sign up for free with a website like and search for potential native English partners by target language and personal interests. Write to several potential partners as some will not reply to your initial message.
  • Start by just writing to the person, but then agree on VoIP software to use for live conversation practice – e.g. Skype or Google Hangouts. If sessions are informal, then perhaps suggest using mobile apps that allow video calls, like Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger.
  • Remember that having a language exchange partner is not the same as having a qualified English teacher. Your partner is unlikely to be able to explain your mistakes or be able to provide a structured lesson. This is just about chatting and gaining more practice.
  • Using a textbook like Compelling Conversations can help you to explore a more diverse range of speaking topics with your partner.
  • If you cannot find a native partner, then a non-native with fluent English is the next best thing. Keep an open mind, actively reach out to other users, and you should never be short of conversation partners!


8. Get a “study buddy” for regular practice

It is a good idea to team up with another learner to practise and improve your conversational English. Studying alone can be an isolating experience and, when it comes to improving your spoken fluency, you really need a human conversation partner. Try looking for a “study buddy” near you – this could be a friend, relative or colleague – and arrange to meet at least once a week for an hour to speak English and discuss a set topic or list of questions. Take it in turns to prepare these discussion topics.

English conversation practice

Five points to consider when choosing a study buddy:

  • Do you get on well with the person? It is important to ensure you are at ease when communicating with your partner. Make sure you are on the same wavelength.
  • Do you have the same level of English? If your levels differ greatly, then this could be a barrier to communication or the sessions may be of little use to the higher level learner.
  • Are you both available at the same times each week? Life can often get in the way of your studies so you need to make sure you reserve at least one slot per week to practise together.
  • Where are you going to meet up? You should choose a quiet location where there are no friends, relatives or colleagues using your native language or causing other distractions.
  • How are you going to practise your conversation skills? You could discuss a set topic each week using a list of conversation questions or opt for a more casual chat about life, work and family. Alternatively, you could choose a book, article or film as “homework” and then meet up to discuss it and examine any new vocabulary.


9. Travel abroad to improve your conversation skills

One of the best ways to learn conversational English is to place yourself in situations where you cannot use your mother tongue to communicate with others. While these situations can be stressful, they force you to use your English and find different ways of expressing your thoughts in the language. This is some of the best practice you can get, especially if it is with native English speakers. Next time you are booking a holiday, you may want to consider a destination that will give you a better opportunity to use your English.

Learn English conversation

Top holiday destinations for practising your conversational English:

  • Classics: UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand

When we think of “native English speakers”, these are the countries that spring to mind. However, there are many others where English is widely spoken to a high level.

  • Sunny: Malta, Gibraltar, Caribbean

There are still plenty of smaller territories that have a historical affiliation to Britain as former colonies or trading posts. Today, these places use English as a lingua franca, even though some have not officially declared English as a state language.

  • Exotic: Kenya, Belize, Singapore

If you fancy something a bit different, why not practise your English while on safari in Kenya or trekking in the rainforests of Belize!

10. Practise even when you are alone!

If you want to speak fluent English, then you need to be prepared to put in the effort even when you are on your own. Just because there is nobody else around does not mean that you have to stop practising and improving!

Spoken English conversation

Try the following techniques to hone your communication skills:

  • Pronunciation drills: Keep a separate notebook with exercises to enhance your pronunciation skills through the repetition of minimal pairs, tongue twisters and any words you find difficult to say in English.
  • Mirroring: Find a short audio or video clip. Listen to it several times and create your own transcript. Mark this with your notes on the speaker’s intonation and pronunciation. Now play the piece again and try to copy (or “mirror”) the original as closely as you can.
  • Dialogues: Take some sample dialogues from a conversation textbook or website and record yourself reading them aloud. Repeat this process every few weeks, listen to your older recordings and see how you have improved.
  • Analyse: Take the time to analyse your mistakes in spoken English. You will find that the majority of your errors come through interference from your native language. Conversation practice is great, but never ignore the theory!

25 ways to improve your business English for effective communication at work


START – Defining your target language and setting realistic goals

“Business English” is a general term for the formal variety of English used in professional working environments. However, the English you use at work may also fall under the category of “ESP” – or English for Specific Purposes – if it relates to a professional niche with a precise set of terminology. For example, if you are a Financial Analyst, you may be required to use some general business English in your daily communications, but you may also need to be familiar with a highly specific set of jargon related to markets, statistics and other areas of your work. It is often the case that one type of English does not cover all of the bases. Consider the following tips:

Business English

  1. It all starts with a list!
    If you want to improve your professional English, start by making a list of situations in which you use the language at work. Do you require general business English or ESP? In most cases, the answer will be: a bit of both. Try to be as specific as possible when writing your list as this will help to pinpoint where improvements need to be made.
  2. Set some clear goals
    Think of fluent English as an important “stepping stone” in the advancement of your career. Set clear targets with your business English as you would with your other projects at work. This will help you stay motivated in the long-run and will yield better results.

english fluency graph

  1. Be realistic about your time and progress
    Business people are often “busy-ness” people! Time is always the enemy, especially if you have family as well as work commitments. Therefore, it is important that you set yourself realistic targets in terms of the time you are willing to devote to your English and the results you can then expect to receive.

Any time, effort and money you “invest” in your business English will be rewarded with improved fluency later on. Be consistent with your studies (no breaks!), focus on step-by-step progression (today, tomorrow, etc.), and you will see significant long-term gains.

  1. Schedule in some English
    Reserve x3 “mini breaks” each day to take a timeout for your English. For example, 15 minutes during breakfast to watch the latest business news via the internet, 10 minutes over lunch to review your latest vocabulary list, 30 minutes in the car on your way home from work to listen to an audiobook about a topic that really interests you.


EXPLORE – Seeking out real business situations in which to practise

If you want to improve your business English and communication skills for work, you need to actively seek out opportunities to gain practice. While some language skills can be acquired in isolation, spoken fluency is not one of them and this is especially the case with business communication as it often requires you to employ a certain etiquette and use words or constructions selectively based on situations. This is further complicated when we consider some examples of intercultural communication issues that arise when doing business internationally. There is no substitute for real-world experience when it comes to using English in a business context, so take every available opportunity!

English for business

  1. Travel on business
    One of the best ways to improve your business English is to remove the option of communicating in your native language. In other words, to place yourself in situations in which you are forced to use English – like it or not. Travelling abroad for work is a great example of this. In addition to speaking practice, business trips can provide you with a valuable understanding of how your overseas colleagues interact at work and in their down time.
  2. Prepare for a conference
    Today there are conferences, conventions, trade shows and training events for all types of professional activities. These offer you the opportunity to learn new things, but also to network in English with other colleagues and potential business partners. Why not kill two birds with one stone and develop your professional skills while also practising your business English? If your company has a stand, volunteer to help run it!
  3. Do a presentation in English
    Presenting well in public can be tough, but how about doing it in a foreign language? For many learners, this is their worst nightmare! However, the only way to gain confidence with your spoken English is to confront your fears and overcome any psychological barriers to communication. Start with an audience of one – write and check your presentation, then read it in front of the mirror at home when no one else is around. Try it again with a couple of relatives and get their feedback. Now ask a few colleagues in your department to be your audience. Improve your content and delivery using this method. By the time you come to do your presentation at a conference or in front of a larger audience, you will be “a natural”!


READ – Laying the foundations for effective communication

Reading regularly in English is important because it helps improve your understanding of grammar, while also expanding your active and passive vocabulary. If you read about the same business topics each week, you will soon develop a better knowledge of any associated words, expressions and constructions because they are constantly repeated in the text. If you read a lot in your mother tongue, why not switch to English content at least some of the time? Try the following tips:

English for work

  1. Search for English websites that are really worth reading
    When choosing content to read in English, it is important that it is interesting and relevant to YOU. Try searching for websites related to your professional activities, companies you would like to know more about, or successful business people you admire. Perhaps also explore any associated forums or social media pages to participate via comments. Write down new vocabulary and translate it. You will find that a lot of modern business terminology has been “borrowed” into other languages from English, but pay close attention to any differences in usage and pronunciation.

Keep a personal business English notebook where you can write down new words and expressions with examples in context. Alternatively, use a mobile app (like Wordsteps) to compile vocabulary lists and schedule weekly tests.

  1. Read work-specific literature or documentation
    This may not always be the most interesting material available in the English language, but reading professional or technical documents, books, manuals, regulations, etc. is a good way to improve your understanding of work-related jargon and its practical usage.

  1. Learn some phrasal verbs and idioms commonly used in business
    It is worth making the effort to learn some work-related idioms and phrasal verbs as these are often used by naive speakers in business situations. While these expressions can make your English sound more natural, they also have the potential to cause embarrassment if used incorrectly or in the wrong context. Therefore, the best advice is to learn them in context and with 2-3 real examples of correct usage.
  2. Dip into a textbook
    Textbooks are of value, but not if they reduce your motivation to study. Unfortunately, the majority of textbooks out there today are either boring or irrelevant to the needs and interests of most learners. For this reason, you must be selective when making your choice. Opt for a textbook that allows you to dip in and out at any time, with answers in the back for self-correction. English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy is a good example, as is the Professional English in Professional English in Use series published by Cambridge University Press.


WRITE – Presenting a professional image with your written English

Written communication plays a central role in the business world and, although paper-based formats have largely been replaced by electronic equivalents, the importance of correct formal written English remains as strong as ever. Errors in formal correspondence, public presentations and promotional material can often lead to confusion and embarrassment. If you want to do justice to your professional image at work, it is important that you pay close attention to how you write in English.

professional English

In a famous email, which went viral on the internet, one unfortunate company employee replied to his CEO with: “Thank you for the mAssage!” Sometimes small typos can make a big difference.

  1. Just checking!
    Always proofread your written communications 2-3 times to eliminate grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Use a program with a spellchecker to automatically highlight potential issues in the text and keep a good dictionary handy, or use a website like Grammarly.
  2. Record your mistakes so you can learn from them
    Everyone makes mistakes when using a foreign language. What distinguishes a fluent business English speaker from the crowd is a willingness to learn and move on from these mistakes. Keep an ongoing written record of your common errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar. Note which mistakes you repeat on a regular basis and then take action to rectify them using textbooks or Business English classes with a Business English classes with a native tutor.
  3. Improve your professional emails
    Whenever you receive an email from a colleague in English, try noting down any new phrases that you might be able to use yourself next time. Keep a file on your computer for quick access to these set phrases. If you find it difficult to structure your correspondence, perhaps try an internet search for “business email templates” to see how natives pen their emails.
  4. Join an English internet forum in your professional niche
    Many internet forums are still very much alive and kicking, despite the format being somewhat outdated these days. Try a Google search for “name of your profession + online forum” to find some suitable websites. Sign up as a free member and browser some of the discussion threads until you find something of interest. Help others by sharing your professional expertise, note down new expressions from other users and gain valuable English practice in the process.

Entries and comments on internet forums and social media reflect how the modern English language is used today. Keep your finger on the pulse by reading this type of content regularly!


WATCH – Using visual media to build your communication skills

In order to be a fluent English speaker, you need to develop advanced listening comprehension skills too. This is where video content has an important role to play because it exposes you to the spoken language with images that place it in a clear context. Audio alone offers less information. Learners often say that TV newsreaders speak too quickly to be fully understood all of the time, but that the images on the screen help them to contextualise and fill in the gaps themselves. Switch on and start watching by following these tips:

communication skills

  1. Watch TV series, documentaries and films related to your profession
    Even if you do not have English TV channels at home, you can still watch a wide variety of programmes free of charge via the internet. TV series, films and documentaries can give you access to real situational English as it is used today by native speakers at work. For example, if you are a legal professional, try watching series like Silk (UK), Suits (USA) or other “courtroom dramas” on this list. A quick Google search for “your profession + series” will help you to find relevant lists of programmes. For information on films and documentaries related to your business, try searching on and then look for items of interest on Youtube or via a Google search for “title + watch free online”. Where possible, you may wish to use English subtitles, but do not turn on subtitles in your native language. Watching TV regularly is one of the best ways to build your vocabulary and listening skills.
  2. Switch on the news every morning!
    Why not start each day by catching up on the latest business and global news over breakfast? This could be done on your iPad, laptop or TV. Channels like BBC News 24, Sky News, CNN, and RT all have daily business reports that can be accessed online. If you do not have cable TV, try a Google search for “watch business news free online” and navigate to your channel of choice. Watching the news improves the speed at which you process information in English and helps you remain up to date on the latest events in the world.
  3. Use Youtube to practise your business English online
    If you are short of time, watching shorter Youtube videos can be a great way of squeezing a little more English practice into your daily routine. Use the search box to find videos related to your professional niche or subscribe to channels that teach different aspects of English. You can start by watching some videos via Business English Pod and


SPEAK – Finding opportunities to speak, gain fluency and build confidence

If you want to improve your communication skills for business, you must seek out and use all of your available opportunities to speak English at work. There is no substitute for regular interaction with native speakers in English so it is important to make this a priority when learning the language. If you live in a non-English speaking country, ensuring frequent conversation practice can be a challenge. Try some of the following tips to improve your English speaking:

learn business english

  1. Find a “study buddy” at work
    If you work for a large company, the chances are that you have colleagues who also want to speak English more fluently. Ask around and find a “study buddy” who is on your wavelength. Then make time each week to converse in English and share notes on what each of you has been learning since your last chat. This can help provide a social element to your self-study situation, especially if you do not have an English tutor.
  2. Interact more with overseas colleagues
    Do you have any native or non-native colleagues from other countries? Do you use English when communicating with them? If the answer is “yes”, then perhaps you could interact with them more frequently in order to take full advantage of the English practice they provide. Whether this is via email, conference calls or face-to-face, it all means more English contact time for you and this leads to faster progress, especially with your speaking and listening skills. Building closer working relationships with colleagues is also good for business!
  3. Use dialogues to practise formal exchanges
    Business English often follows a strict etiquette with formal patterns of usage. This makes learning it a little easier as certain work situations often use a limited set of words and constructions. Role-playing business English dialogues (like these) with a colleague or tutor will help you later when you face similar situations at work.
  4. Join a public speaking club like Toastmasters
    If you lack confidence with your English speaking, why not overcome your fear by joining a club like Toastmasters? This organisation brings together business people interested in improving their public speaking and leadership skills in English. Members pay international fees of around $90/year with a one-off $20 registration charge when you join. Interested? You can search for your local Toastmasters club here.
  5. Look for expats in your area
    Most big cities have an English speaking expat community. All you need to do is find a way in. Try searching via Facebook and Google for expat groups and websites in your country and then narrow down the results to your city. Expats tend to be a mixture of teachers and business people who frequently use English when socialising together. Find out where they meet up and how you can get involved in their little community. Some expats may be members of local business networking clubs so you may wish to include these in your search.


TRAIN – Getting your own personal business English trainer

Learning business English is like going to the gym. You start going on your own or with a friend, you make good progress to begin with, but then you start missing training sessions. Perhaps you have to stay behind late after work to complete a project or maybe your kids needs to be picked up from school early – your other commitments start to affect your training routine, you see slower progress and your motivation suffers as a result. Eventually, maybe you cancel your gym membership. Sound familiar? With the gym example, having a personal trainer often makes a big difference in terms of motivation and progress. This is also true when studying English.

study business english

  1. Find a personal English trainer for 1-to-1 lessons
    Individual tutoring offers you the chance to focus on precisely the type of English you need to achieve your goals. You do not have to compromise or waste time listening to other students make mistakes, as you would in a traditional group class. One-to-one training provides a focal point for your studies as a whole and offers the opportunity to gain valuable feedback and error correction from a native English teacher. Training of this type can be gained via local language schools or in the form of Skype English lessons.


PROGRESS – A little each day goes a long way

As the saying goes: “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. One of the most important factors when learning a foreign language is consistency. This means taking many small steps over a longer period of time in order to cover a big distance. For 99% of learners, gaining fluency in business English is a “long-ball game”. This means that it takes time. If you understand this and adopt the right approach to your studies, you will maintain your motivation longer and do what is necessary to achieve fluent English. This brings us to our final tip:

  1. Approach your studies with a winning attitude
    Everyone is busy! Do not use this as an excuse to ignore your commitment to your English. Whatever time and effort you invest in your studies will be rewarded later with improved fluency and understanding. Successful people do not make excuses – they do what is necessary to achieve a result. Start improving your business English today by using the tips in this guide!

How to speak English well: 50 tips to improve your fluency

Tips by topic

Fluency in English is a lifestyle choice
Don’t look for a quick fix – there isn’t one!
Make English relevant and interesting to you
Build your other English skills to help with your spoken fluency
Avoid focusing too much on grammar (at the expense of speaking)
Use modern English content produced by native speakers
Use it or lose it!
Make use of available technology and apps
Improve your spoken fluency by copying a native English model
Network with other English speakers
Travel and communicate with others abroad
Invite English speakers to visit you
Take English lessons with a native speaker
Never ignore the elephant in the room!
Stay motivated, build confidence and achieve your goals


Fluency in English is a lifestyle choice

If you want to understand how to speak fluent English, you need to consider how fluency is gained by native speakers of the language in countries like the UK or USA. Brits and Americans grow up in an environment dominated by English and learn the language through constant contact and social interaction. They use English as a highly practical tool to form relationships with others, study, work and gain or exchange information for a variety of purposes. Life for them would not be possible without fluent English as this forms the basis of almost everything they do. This is certainly the same for your native language and country, but do YOU really NEED English? If the answer is “yes” and you have a strong desire to become fluent, then you need to make more time for English in your daily routine. In other words, you have to introduce some changes to your current lifestyle in order to speak more fluent English through regular contact with the language. Here are 5 tips to help you get started:

  1. Set time aside for your English each day and make it a priority
    Any time you spend on your English should be seen as an investment in your future fluency. Many small steps will help you travel a long distance over time. Having a clear idea of exactly why you need English and what you will gain as a result of being fluent is important in order to see it as a priority in your busy life. The amount of time you choose to invest in your English is up to you, but this should be a regular commitment and it will directly affect the speed at which you gain fluency.
  2. Actively introduce more English into your daily routine
    Make a conscious effort to inject more English into your typical day. Try the following: read one BBC news article on your iPad while you’re having breakfast each morning, listen to an English audiobook or radio station on your way to work, do a 10-word vocabulary test during your lunch break using a mobile app, write an email to a foreign colleague or friend, watch a 5-minute Youtube video from a learning English channel, study a little grammar from a textbook some evenings, attend a Skype English class a couple of times a week, organise an English film night at home once a month with a friend, etc.
  3. Use your native language less
    If you spend 99% of your time speaking your mother tongue and only 1% is left for English, improving your fluency is always going to be an uphill struggle. Are there situations in which you could use English instead of your native language? This technique is called “replacement” and examples might include: changing the language on your mobile phone to English, watching TV in English 50% of the time or choosing to read a book in English instead of in your native language.
  4. Stop thinking of English as just a “textbook subject”
    Try to view English more as a way of life and less as a school subject. Any contact with the language will help you to speak English more fluently over time so why limit yourself to just traditional classrooms and textbooks? Taking a broader perspective is likely to make the learning process far more interesting. Native English speakers have regular contact with the language in a wide range of contexts – so should you!
  5. Find some study buddies!
    Involve those around you in your efforts to become more fluent in English; ask them to help you practise, to test your vocabulary or to correct your writing. Those who are close to you can play an important role in supporting and maintaining your new “English lifestyle”. However, also be aware that some could resent your time being spent on English so may try to prevent this positive change.


Don’t look for a quick fix – there isn’t one!

We are living in a world where advertising teaches us to believe everything can be gained quickly and easily with a minimum of effort. In reality, the best things in life are often gained by working consistently to achieve a goal over time. This is certainly the case when learning how to speak English fluently. If you go online, you’ll find lots of books and websites with catchphrases like: “how to learn English fast”, “speak great English in just 3 weeks” or “the easy way to learn English”. However, achieving fluent English is never easy or fast and learners who fail to acquire good English are usually those who a) look for a quick fix solution, or b) do not make enough of a personal investment in their studies in terms of time, effort and money. If you really want to know how to speak English fluently, avoid the gimmicks, take responsibility for your own progress and follow the practical advice in this guide.

how to become fluent in english

  1. Set realistic goals and allow adequate time for improvement
    Many learners set unrealistic targets for themselves, fail to follow their own study timetable and are then disappointed by the end result. Do not let yourself fall into this trap!

Start by setting a series of small and achievable goals in the short-term (e.g. next 3 months). Write down your current commitments and decide how much time you have each week to dedicate to your English. Then compare your list of study goals with your availability and create a realistic plan.

  1. Remember that fluency in English is a “percentages game”
    Accept that you may never become a native English speaker, but that this is not the goal. Work towards improving your respective skills step-by-step over time. It is unlikely you will ever gain a 100% native English accent, but perhaps 90% would be enough. Keep your goals clear in your mind – e.g. with accent the main thing is to be understood by everyone and that means clear, standard pronunciation with minimal confusion between similar sounds. This principle also applies to your other English skills.
  2. Visualise your progress to appreciate what you have achieved so far
    Motivation often comes from seeing the result of your efforts. Testing your skills from time to time can help you visualise your progress so you feel positive about your English. For example, try setting yourself a 20-word/phrase vocabulary test at the end of each week. A larger vocabulary makes understanding the language a lot easier and also helps you speak English more fluently.


Make English relevant and interesting to you

One of the biggest problems with traditional English classroom teaching, as you will have experienced at school or university, is that there tends to be a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Classes are taught in groups, confident students dominate while others receive little attention, and courses tend to be generic or textbook-based. This style of teaching has the potential to kill off any interest in the language and damage your motivation to study. If you want to know how to speak English fluently, the starting point should be YOU. Below are several tips to help you establish more of a personal connection with English and boost your motivation to acquire greater fluency:

how to speak good english

  1. Connect your existing hobbies and interests with English
    English is never boring if you study with material that is relevant and interesting to you. Take a piece of paper and write down a list of all the hobbies and interests that motivate and stimulate you in your daily life. Now think of ways to connect each of these with English. For example, if you love tennis and read about this sport in your native language each week, stop doing this and start reading in English. In many cases, you will find you have faster access to the latest news and information as you do not need to wait for translations to appear in your mother tongue.
  2. Avoid using textbooks and materials that you find boring
    Motivation is vital when studying a language. Many learners fail to develop a love of English at school because they find the lessons and textbooks boring. Don’t make this mistake again! Try using a wide variety of different material and see what works best for you.
  3. Make a list of interesting topics for discussion
    To gain more fluent English you need to speak the language regularly with other people. This could be with native or non-native friends, relatives, members of a local English conversation club, other students at a group class, a Skype English tutor, etc.

When you are engaged and interested, you gain fluency in English faster. Try making a list of topics you find intellectually and emotionally stimulating, then search on Google to find relevant articles, videos and other study materials for discussion and further study.

  1. Join English internet forums that are related to your work or interests
    Even if you live outside a majority English speaking country, you can still gain fantastic access to native English “opportunities” via the internet. If you enjoy communicating with others online, you may wish to join internet forums where likeminded people correspond on subjects that are of interest to you. You can then learn from forum members by noting down commonly used expressions and constructions that you can use later when speaking about these topics. Another advantage of internet forums is that participants tend to use current jargon, phrases that are in common circulation and natural colloquial forms.


Build your other English skills to help with your spoken fluency

Fluent spoken English comes from having a broad vocabulary, good listening comprehension skills and a solid understanding of grammar. Therefore, it is a mistake to focus 100% on just speaking. Imagine you are building a house. You will need a range of different materials – bricks, timber, cement, slates for the roof, etc. This is also the case when you are “building fluency” in English. You need solid foundations on which to build, and these represent the other main skills in the language. Try the following tips to help you improve your “foundations for fluency”:

improve fluency in english

  1. Always keep working to improve your vocabulary
    Having a large vocabulary gives you greater flexibility and power of expression in English. Therefore, it is important that you continually work to improve your vocabulary through a) conscious study, and b) passive exposure to the language. One of the biggest problems learners face when speaking English is that they lack the words to express what they wish to say or cannot construct sentences quickly enough to hold a fluent conversation. Working on your vocabulary can help with this immensely. However, you must be selective with the words and phrases you choose to learn if you want to remember them.

Only learn words and expressions that you are actually going to use regularly! Keep a personal dictionary or vocabulary notebook for new words and phrases. Set yourself mini tests each week on a selection of the most useful new terms you have found or perhaps use an app like Wordsteps to compile lists and test your vocabulary over time.

  1. Remember that listening is half of the conversation
    If you want to know how to speak English fluently, then first learn how to be a good listener. Fluency is often gained by listening to and then copying the language used by others. English has a wide variety of accents and regional forms so it is vital you work on your listening comprehension skills if you wish to understand native speech. To do this, try the following:  watch current English TV series, films with subtitles, Youtube channels, etc. If you enjoy music, pick some of your favourite tracks, print off the lyrics, translate the meaning into your language and perhaps even sing along! You could also try listening to audiobooks and transcribing them on paper, then compare the original printed version with your transcript to see where you went wrong. Note down any new words and phrases you find useful.
  2. Be a bookworm!
    Reading more can help build your understanding of the language in terms of word order, grammatical constructions, idioms and other set phrases used by native speakers. If you read lots of articles about the same topic or books by the same author, you will find that words and phrases repeat themselves time after time. The more you read similar texts, the easier it will become to understand them as you familiarise yourself with the vocabulary used.

Avoid reading material that is too old or outdated. Stick to texts written in the last 30 years as these are more representative of the language used by native speakers today.

  1. Analyse native English conversations and dialogues for more natural speech
    If you want to speak English more naturally, you need to examine how natives use the language in their everyday conversations. Try taking sample dialogues from textbooks or transcribing them from TV programmes (e.g. soap operas or sitcoms that reflect common usage). You’ll notice that native speakers have a tendency to use more phrasal verbs, contractions and simplified tense forms (especially in American English). This language is likely to differ from that found in traditional textbooks and will give you some valuable insights into how modern English is spoken today. You may wish to try role playing with a conversation partner to practise the common exchanges and situational English you are learning. You will find that many words and phrases are often repeated during everyday conversations in English so it is worth identifying these and knowing them well.

You may like to compare your existing vocabulary with this list of the 5,000 most frequently used words in English.


Avoid focusing too much on grammar (at the expense of speaking)

One of the most common problems among learners of English as a foreign language is that they have been taught in a traditional classroom environment by a non-native tutor who has focused more on grammar than speaking. This is entirely understandable because a) school programmes often emphasise structure over interaction, and b) non-native teachers may lack confidence in their own spoken fluency. However, the fact is that students cannot learn how to speak English fluently unless they are given regular opportunities to practise their speaking skills. This is a failing within our national education systems, but you can choose to make speaking a priority in your own studies and learn grammar more in context.

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  1. Grammar is not only learned through textbooks
    Most learners would agree that studying grammar is essential, but boring. However, this does not always have to be the case. You may be surprised to hear that English children are seldom taught grammar formally at UK primary and secondary schools and that they learn mostly through trial and error – by writing stories and other texts and having them corrected by their teacher. They also acquire an understanding of grammar through constant contact with the language and interaction with others. This proves that textbooks are not the only way to learn grammar. You can also acquire it by listening to native English on a regular basis and copying correct constructions and utterances. When working more on grammar through speaking, it is an advantage to have a native English teacher who can correct your mistakes.
  2. Remember that natives often break the rules!
    If you want to know how to speak English fluently, you cannot afford to ignore the importance of non-standard forms, regional accents and dialects. According to the latest statistics, only around 2% of Brits speak RP (or The Queen’s English). This “posh” form of English is on the decline and is no longer seen by most as a desirable accent. Many BBC newsreaders now use Standard English, but with soft regional accent features – Welsh, Scottish, northern vs. southern English, etc. If you watch television or listen to music, you will hear a wide variety of accents (just pronunciation) and dialects (some different vocabulary and grammar too). While you may not wish to use these regional forms yourself, it is important that you make an effort to understand them because the majority of native speakers have at least some non-standard features.


Use modern English content produced by native speakers

In order to speak fluent English, you need a correct model to follow and this should be representative of the modern language as it is spoken today. Even if you live outside a majority English speaking country, the internet still provides fantastic access to learning opportunities: news websites, forums, social networks, Skype tutors, study websites, etc. There is no excuse for using outdated textbooks or focusing on material that does not reflect how natives speak the language today. However, there is still a place for literature and older work as long as you are able to distinguish between current versus outdated forms and make appropriate choices when speaking.

  1. Choices, choices, choices…
    Most ESL learners struggle at times to select the correct words and phrases to match the context in which they are speaking. This is a difficult skill to acquire and mistakes often arise because the student is using outdated textbooks and other material that does not reflect modern usage. Another criticism often directed at non-natives is that they sound overly formal when speaking English. Again this is due to inappropriate word selection – e.g. non-natives might favour formal terms like “postpone” or “collect” where natives prefer phrasal verbs like “put off” or “pick up” in everyday conversation.

It is often best to avoid using textbooks or other resources written by non-native speakers because they are more likely to contain errors and old-fashioned language.

  1. English is constantly evolving!
    To be a fluent English speaker, you must be prepared to adapt to the changing nature of the language and learn continuously. Native speakers never stop learning English as the language is constantly evolving under a variety of influences – mass media, trends, advertising, politics, foreign language contact, etc. If you want to keep your finger on the pulse, you need to expose yourself to current native English content on a regular basis. Live interaction with native speakers is a big advantage too.
  2. Television is a window into modern English
    Watching reality shows, TV series and soap operas can give you valuable insights into the type of English being used today in majority English speaking countries. It is not all pretty, polite or in line with standard pronunciation and grammar, but it is a genuine illustration of modern usage and provides learners with valuable access to “raw English” as it is spoken today by Brits and Americans. Try watching some British TV programmes on a website like or a Youtube channel like this and note down new phrases, slang and colloquial expressions to use later.


Use it or lose it!

To speak English well, you need to maintain a good active vocabulary. Most learners struggle to achieve this due to a lack of practice (which also means a lack of repetition). We might say that the human brain is like a computer and that active vocabulary is saved in a “temporary files folder”. If information is not used within a given period of time, it is simply deleted or forgotten. Therefore, if you want to speak English fluently, you need to ensure that a) you are learning vocabulary and grammar that you are actually going to use in practice, and b) you are getting regular contact with the language.

speak good english

  1. Repetition = retention
    Repetition has been proven to help us remember information for a longer period of time. In the context of English, the main focus should be on repetition of vocabulary and grammar. It is a good idea to keep a record of all your vocabulary tests and regularly look back through your notebooks to ensure this information does not go “in one ear and out the other”. Perhaps ask an English speaking friend to help test your skills from time to time or automate this process via a mobile app.
  2. Use materials that cover the same topics repeatedly
    This is a good way of getting to know a certain set of vocabulary well through constant exposure to the same words, phrases and constructions. For example, after you have read 25 news articles about tennis you will be familiar with all the common set phrases associated with the sport. The same goes for any topic. Try this for yourself!


Make use of available technology and apps

Technology is changing the way we access and acquire knowledge. Learners across the world are using the internet to improve their fluency in English through study websites, social networks, webinars, Skype lessons and more. Mobile phone usage is on the increase and many choose to install apps for learning English on the move. This can be a great idea because it allows you to fit more English practice into your daily routine, without the need to carry bags of books around!

improve your english speaking

  1. Try some apps for learning English
    Check out our list of the top-10 mobile apps for learning English. Some of the best focus on vocabulary and allow you to create your own lists by topic to practise anytime, anywhere. Download several apps and see which work best for you.
  2. Computers cannot speak like us (yet!)
    Although great progress has been made over the last decade with artificial intelligence, computers still cannot understand and reproduce speech in the same way humans do. This means that apps focused on English speaking and correction are often of limited use. You need regular human interaction with native and non-native speakers.


Improve your spoken fluency by copying a native English model

In order to speak English well, you need a correct native model to follow. In the same way that children acquire language by imitating their parents and others around them, you can learner English through regular exposure to native English content (text, audio, video) and interaction with a tutor or friends. Before you choose a model to focus on, you may like to consider the tips provided below:

  1. Choose ONE national branch of English
    There can be significant differences between British and American English in terms of vocabulary, pronunciation, and even grammar. Confusion often arises when learners mix different types of English together when speaking and writing the language. To avoid this, consider which national variety of English you prefer (or which suits your needs best) and make this the starting point for selecting a suitable model.
  2. Find a native model or tutor to guide your learning
    Having your own native English tutor can be a great way of ensuring regular speaking practice and error correction. This tutor can act as your native model and point of reference, as well as boosting your motivation and interest in the language. You could also choose a model like a BBC newsreader, Youtube star or famous celebrity if you have access to enough video and audio material. This person should be a native speaker with Standard English, but also someone you like and perhaps admire.
  3. Try the “shadowing” method!
    Start by finding a short piece of audio or video clip by a native English speaker – this could be a 30-60 second passage from an audiobook or a very short comedy sketch from Youtube. Listen or watch this several times until you are familiar with it and clear on its meaning. Pay attention to how the speaker uses intonation, emphasis and pauses. Perhaps make some notes on paper and transcribe the passage so you have a visual text to work from too. Now try to “shadow” the speaker by repeating the passage in exactly the same manner and with the same pronunciation. You may like to record yourself doing this so you can then compare your version against the original to see where you can improve further at the next attempt.

  1. Keep working TOWARDS native fluency
    Unless you have spent the formative part of your childhood living in a majority English speaking country, it is unlikely that you will ever become a 100% native speaker. Set realistic study goals for yourself and work towards these over time. Every learner is capable of achieving fluent English and some even reach near native proficiency.

If you are worried about your pronunciation at advanced level, consider hiring a speech therapist who specialises in accent reduction. Bear in mind that the majority of native English tutors will not have the specialist skills required to provide more than general pronunciation training and error correction.


Network with other English speakers

You must ensure regular speech practice if you want to speak English fluently. Live interaction with native and non-native speakers helps improve your listening skills and gives you a golden opportunity to bring your theoretical knowledge to life. This type of communication may be less formal and organised than English lessons and error correction may be limited, but having an “English social network” can be hugely beneficial for improving your confidence when speaking.

  1. Join an English conversation club!
    English is the most popular foreign language studied in the world today. This is good news for learners because it means there are English conversation clubs and societies in almost every town and city. Try looking online via Google or Facebook for information on English groups near you. These will often be free, but some may charge a small membership fee. The idea of these clubs is to arrange weekly or monthly get-togethers where native and non-native speakers of English can socialise in an informal setting.
  2. Speak English with non-natives too
    If native English speakers are in short supply in your town, you can still gain valuable experience by communicating in English with non-native study buddies. Ideally, these will be other learners of your level or higher. Just be aware that non-natives often make mistakes in English so try to avoid taking these on board.
  3. Use the internet to connect with English speakers
    Do you have a Facebook account or enjoy online gaming? Social networks are full of English study groups you can join for free to practise your language skills with other learners from around the world. If you like online gaming, buy a microphone so you can chat with other participants in English while you are playing. You may find you share a lot in common with other gamers worldwide!


Travel and communicate with others abroad

One of the best reasons for improving your fluency in English is that it is currently the main international lingua franca (or common language). Travelling abroad can be an interesting and challenging way of enhancing your English speaking skills.

how to understand english better

Today there are actually more non-native speakers of English in the world than there are Brits, Americans, Canadians and other native speakers combined! Countries like India even teach students their own unique national branch of English.

  1. Leave your native language in your suitcase!
    Being abroad is a great way to practise your English, but if you are travelling with friends or relatives who speak your language, you may not make full use of this opportunity. Leave your native language in your suitcase and make a conscious effort to use English instead. You may want to consider some solo travel as this will force you to use English 24/7.

You will always be tempted to use your mother tongue if given the choice because this is easier and feels more natural – it is your dominant instinct. However, sometimes you must distance yourself from your native language in order to become more fluent in English.

  1. Consider working abroad
    While this option may not be open to everyone, working overseas does offer several key advantages when it comes to improving your fluency in English. Full immersion within an English speaking workplace and wider social setting leads to faster progress and a better understanding of the language. If you are able to find work within your professional sphere abroad, then this is an ideal way of getting ahead, both with your English and with your career. If you are currently a university student, you may want to consider a programme like Work & Travel, which offers the chance to earn a basic salary in a service industry job, enjoy a little tourism and improve your English in the USA.
  2. Think about an overseas study programme
    Studying abroad can be a great way of becoming more fluent in English while learning valuable skills for your professional career. Many of the world’s best universities are based in the UK or America and there are a wide variety of degree courses to choose from. You can find out more about higher education opportunities in the UK on the British Council website. If university isn’t right for you, then there are still plenty of other courses overseas to suit every budget and availability. These might be work-related or based around your personal interests. For example, if you like Yoga, perhaps consider a residential course in an English speaking country like Malta. If you work in marketing, why not attend a short course in London with a top agency?


Invite English speakers to visit you

If you cannot find the time to visit an English speaking country, why not invite a native speaker to visit you? Playing host, tour guide and translator to a visiting guest is one of the best ways to learn English by socialising and sharing information and experiences with another person. Independent travel is gaining popularity and the internet provides access to everything from individual home stays to adventure tourism with a local guide. If you do not have foreign friends, now is the time to make some!

speak english more fluently

  1. Find a friendly foreigner!
    Overseas friends can be made through work, study or travel. However, if your address book is looking a bit empty when you get to “E” for English, you may want to consider looking online. Penpal websites are not as popular as they used to be, but a search like “penpals UK” via Google may still prove fruitful. Social networks are a good place to find travel and hobby pages – for example, check out this unusual Facebook group for travellers looking for others to accompany them on snorkelling trips around the world! You could also try looking up Facebook groups for foreigners interested in your country and language. These might be pages for expats or just for those interested in travel and culture. If you are outgoing and helpful, it should not be too difficult to find friends and extend an invitation to meet up sometime.
  2. Clean out that spare room!
    Websites like Air B’n’B and Couchsurfing are extremely popular among open-minded Brits and Americans who like to travel and see the “real life” of a country. If you have a spare room and would like to host foreign tourists visiting your city, try registering on these sites. This could provide some good English practice, as well as a little extra cash.
  3. Become a host family
    Many schools and universities worldwide have student exchange programmes to promote language learning and cultural activities. This can be a good option for families to improve their English skills together and build relationships with other families internationally. Try looking online or ask at your local school or university for details.


Take English lessons with a native speaker

Although many skills in English can be improved through self-study, spoken fluency is seldom achieved in isolation due to the need for regular interaction and error correction. Having a native English tutor can help provide a focal point for your day-to-day studies. This should be a qualified teacher with appropriate experience who can provide guidance and practical training a couple of times a week.

Take English lessons with a native speaker

  1. Look for a teacher closer to home
    There are several options when considering a face-to-face tutor. You can study in a group class at a private language school or take 1-to-1 lessons at home or at the teacher’s place. It may be best to find a tutor closer to home as this will make attending classes easier. Individual training is also preferable in most cases as it saves time and allows you to focus 100% on exact what you need, rather than what other students in a group may require.
  2. Try online lessons with a native teacher
    In the last decade, e-learning has become a popular alternative to traditional classroom teaching as it offers greater flexibility and access to tutors. It is now possible to have lessons with a native English teacher via Skype (or another VoIP program) from any location with a good internet connection. This method of learning English gives students more choice, while saving them time and money.

If you are interested in live online tuition with a native English teacher, you can request a consultation here.

  1. Arrange a language exchange
    Search for English speaking expats living in your city. This can be done via Google or Facebook, as well as through the International Department of your local university. Find a native English speaker who is interested in learning your mother tongue and offer them a “language exchange”. Then meet at a cafe each week to practise 30-60 minutes in each language.


Never ignore the elephant in the room!

Linguists and teachers are divided on the issue of using the learner’s native language in the classroom. However, one thing is for sure – you cannot ignore the elephant in the room! Your mother tongue is equivalent to an instinct and the vast majority of mistakes you make when using English will come about through logical transfer (or interference). In effect, you are trying to navigate an “English landscape” using a map of your own native language. For example, Russian has no articles (a, an, the) so native speakers of this language may always struggle to use these words correctly in English. Native French speakers often find it hard to pronounce English “h”, so they are likely to pronounce the word “hen” as “en”. If you want to speak fluent English, you should try to correct your existing mistakes by first understanding where they originate.

learn english with your native language

  1. Pay close attention to our differences!
    How does your native language differ from English in terms of structure and usage? If you improve your understanding of these differences, you can begin to eliminate some of the errors coming into your English as a result of your mother tongue (or language instinct). For instance, if you know that the standard word order in your language is “enough big”, but the correct order in English is “big enough”, then you can make an extra effort not to allow this mistake to occur in future. This requires a conscious intervention on your part until you stop making the given error, which is being automatically transferred from your mother tongue.
  2. Choose to use English wherever possible
    You will face many situations in which you have a choice of either using English or your native language. If you choose to let your mother tongue dominate, your fluency in English will suffer as a result. Step outside your comfort zone and use your English whenever you have the opportunity! Even if you do not speak perfect English, everyone will appreciate your effort and you will improve with time.
  3. Use translation to your advantage
    Some teachers discourage their students from translating to and from their native language. This can be because the tutor feels uncomfortable with a language they do not understand or it can be because they believe students should understand English through English. This approach fails to recognise the benefits of limited mother tongue usage when learning another language. Quick translation to and from the student’s native language can save a lot time and using a detailed bilingual dictionary often helps build a better understanding of what words mean in each language and how they may overlap or differ.
  4. Learning a new language means learning a new culture
    Any linguist will tell you that language and culture are closely connected – you cannot learn one without also learning something about the other. By “culture” we mean: mentality, perspective, norms, etc. Our native language is full of colourful idioms, similes and expressions that reflect our values, beliefs and perception of the world around us. When learning English you will find that our “take on things” is similar to yours in places, but wildly different in others. Be open to the fact we do not all see the world in the same way and that there is no right or wrong. By embracing our cultural idiosyncrasies, you can truly appreciate the beautiful, weird and wonderful faces of our languages. As an illustration, let’s compare English and Russian: a Brit would say “the eye of a needle” where a Russian would say “ear”, a Brit would say “(I’m so hungry) I could eat a horse” where a Russian would say “elephant” and a Brit would say “drink (alcohol) like a fish” where a Russian would say “be quiet as a fish”. What do you say?


Stay motivated, build confidence and achieve your goals

If you are reading this guide, it is probably safe to assume you are not fully satisfied with your English and do not consider yourself fluent. It is also likely that you have studied English at school, college, university, perhaps at private language classes or online, as well as through self-study and your own lived experiences. So why are you not yet fluent? What have been your “barriers to study” in the past? What has caused you to lose motivation? What needs to change? These are all important questions to ask if you genuinely want to improve your English. Take responsibility for your own progress, set tangible and realistic targets, and have confidence in your ability to succeed.

how to study english

  1. First we understand, then we speak
    As young children we develop a good understanding of our parents’ language before we are actually able to speak or produce grammatical sentences ourselves. This is the same for adult learners of English as a foreign language; your understanding will always be ahead of your own practical ability to speak and use the language. Understanding is the basis for the spoken fluency that follows.
  2. It is natural to make mistakes, but learn from them
    The only way to become fluent in a language is through trial and error. Therefore, making mistakes is both natural and necessary. Everyone will be expecting you to make mistakes so there is no need to be overly worried about this. The main thing is that you learn from these mistakes in order to improve next time. If you lack confidence when speaking, think of it this way: most Brits and Americans do not speak any foreign languages fluently because they expect everyone else to use English. You are already ahead of them and they should thank you for doing your best to learn their language! Thank you.
  3. Be your own best critic
    Always be 100% honest with yourself about your progress in English. It is easy to blame your past classroom experiences or tutors, family commitments and busy working life for your current lack of fluency. However, making excuses will not help you improve. You must take control of and responsibility for your own progress – no one can learn English for you. Be your own best critic, but be constructive with your criticism.

Keep a detailed record of your own mistakes over a prolonged period of time. You can then see how frequently these occur, look up the correct forms and work on eliminating these errors. You may wish to study with a native English teacher while compiling your list of typical mistakes as this can be difficult to do alone.

  1. Reward yourself for improved fluency
    Whenever you reach a milestone, achieve a personal goal or just have a good day with your spoken English give yourself a pat on back by rewarding this effort with a treat (e.g. a meal at your favourite restaurant, a trip to the cinema or a new pair of shoes). This reinforces the positive progress you are making. You deserve it.
  2. English is not the final destination!
    Think of English as a “tool” that you can use to get something you want or need in life. Whether your goals are career-oriented, study-based or just social, fluent English in itself is NOT the final destination. Instead, it is the bridge that will help you cross the river and reach the other side. Your task is to build this bridge brick-by-brick and day-by-day. Let’s start building!

English for Nurses: Online ESL Courses for Nurses and Midwives

For those who are overseas or new to life in the UK, this can be a genuine challenge. Our English for Nurses course is taught one-to-one via Skype with a native British English tutor and aims to enhance your worked-based language skills, specifically for employment within the NHS or private UK healthcare organisations.

English Language Requirement for Overseas Nurses in Britain

Before you can practise as a nurse in the UK, you must meet the criteria to register with the Nursing & Midwifery Council. For nurses from outside the EU, this means passing the Academic version of IELTS with an overall score of 7.0 (intermediate+ level). In January 2016, new rules were introduced requiring nurses and midwives from EU countries to provide “evidence of their ability to communicate safely and effectively in English” prior to NMC registration. Where such evidence cannot be provided, the applicant will be asked to sit the Academic IELTS exam. Following Brexit, it is likely that UK legislation regarding English for nurses will change again and that IELTS will become a prerequisite for all overseas staff.

At OTUK, we offer intensive and longer-term courses to assist medical professions with their preparation for the Academic IELTS examination.

Find out more about how to register as a nurse or midwife in the UK via the NMC.

Natural British English for Communication with Local Patients

Current statistics show that around 11-15% of NHS staff in the UK are recruited from overseas. Many of these doctors and nurses pass IELTS prior to registration, but do not have British English as a mother tongue. This leaves them at a disadvantage compared with their UK-born counterparts as they need to develop an understanding of local accents and colloquialisms, intercultural communication issues and standard hospital dialogue. This requires additional study and training of a specific type.

At OTUK, our English for Nurses course focuses not only on medical terminology, but also on typical communication between patients and hospital staff. This type of interaction can sometimes be informal in nature and intended to put the patient at ease or resolve situations involving emotional stress or conflict. A common criticism of overseas nurses is that they are often “too direct” (or may appear rude) when communicating in English with local patients. Misunderstandings of this kind can be avoided with the right language training and practice.

English for Nurses: How to Improve your Fluency Online

The secret to fluency in English is regular practice, whether this be through self-study or with a qualified tutor. While textbooks like Cambridge Medical English in Use provide a solid foundation for any English for nursing course, there are plenty of additional resources available online and free of charge. These include lists of medical vocabulary and even dedicated Youtube channels for nurses. For those wishing to improve their spoken fluency for nursing, Skype English lessons provide valuable practice and error correction with a native tutor, while also offering greater flexibility and access.

English Conversation for Kids: How to Improve Your Child’s Speaking Skills Online

English conversation lessons for kids can provide a great way of ensuring frequent speaking practice with a native English teacher online. At OTUK, we specialise in British English courses for kids and cater for young international learners from the age of 5 years+.

Communication is the Key to Fluency

For kids to speak English well, they need to SPEAK English as often as possible! If they have limited opportunities to do so at home with the family or at school with teachers and friends, there is an immediate barrier to your child gaining conversational fluency in English. While the vast majority of schools tend to focus on reading, writing and grammar, English conversation for kids is seldom considered a priority. As a result, most children who grow up outside English speaking countries fail to acquire good spoken English. This then causes further difficulties later in life when it affects higher education choices and job prospects.

Conversational English classes for kids offer you the chance to give your child a head start and can be conducted with a native English teacher online from home, regardless of your family’s location and time zone. The flexibility of these e-courses helps you to organise regular “English contact sessions” for your son or daughter at a convenient time and without the need to travel.

A Positive Learning Experience at an Early Age

Many adult learners fail to achieve fluency in English due to negative learning experiences gained during childhood – often at school. Boring lessons, uninspiring teachers and disruptive behaviour from other pupils can all prevent a young learner from developing a passion for English and the fluency that comes with it. At OTUK, we believe that English conversation for kids should be engaging and directly connected with the learner’s existing hobbies and interests. Our British teachers ensure that each lesson is both educational and fun for your child. A positive learning experience at an early age often leads to fluency in later life so our aim is to help make English one of your child’s favourite subjects.

Investing in Your Child’s Future

Just like with private music tuition or sports coaching, English conversation lessons for kids represent a worthwhile investment in the personal development of your child. In an increasingly globalised and interconnected world, fluency in the international lingua franca of English has the potential to offer your child a brighter future in terms of their higher education, job prospects and travel opportunities. Our lessons are competitively priced and each course is specifically tailored to the individual level, study needs and personal interests of your child.

If you are interested in helping your son or daughter improve their English with a qualified native British teacher, contact us today to arrange a trial consultation via Skype!

Top 10 free mobile apps for learning English

Using mobile apps for learning English can help you develop your skills on the move while saving you time and money. A little extra study each day using English apps on your mobile device can greatly enhance your fluency in just a few months. In this study guide, we take a look at the top 10 free ESL apps available for smart phones and tablets today.


With over 100 million registered users, Duolingo is one of the most popular ESL apps currently available for download. This free service is available as a website as well as an app for iOS and Android devices. Duolingo employs a gamified learning system to make studying English (and other languages) more engaging and fun for its users. A unique feature of Duolingo is that users are presented with a “skill tree” rather than a standard list of lessons to work through and are given points for correctly completing tasks and making progress on the learning platform. This ESL app is great for learning new vocabulary and improving your written translation skills, which can be rated by other users.

iOS / Android


As its name might suggest, this English app helps you memorise words and other information. It is mostly used for learning languages via flashcards and other interactive exercises, although there are sections dedicated to trivia, popular culture and other subjects. Courses are produced by other users in the online community and the app integrates with your account on the Memrise website. This ESL app uses some features of gamified learning and also includes a points system. This is a great app for learning English vocabulary.

iOS / Android


This ESL app is designed to help users learn lists of English vocabulary on the go. Like with Memrise, Wordsteps allows its online community to produce and share content to help others. This content comes in the form of vocabulary lists, which cover every imaginable subject area – from basic adjectives to technical terminology. There are a variety of different test formats, including: translation to/from English, listening comprehension, spelling, etc. Wordsteps also allows you to schedule automated notifications and tests to ensure you never miss your next study slot.

iOS / Android


LinguaLeo is a freemium ESL app that focuses on a gamified approach to learning English with a points system and progress markers. Following an initial level test, this English app will generate an individual study programme based on your existing skills, objectives and preferences. Users complete exercises designed to improve their grammar, expand vocabulary and enhance reading and listening comprehension.  One plus of this ESL app is that it uses real-life material, including 200,000 pieces of content like news items, popular songs, jokes and short videos. LinguaLeo is arguably more suited to younger learners, given its game-like presentation and emphasis on having fun while learning.

iOS / Android

British Council apps

For many years, the British Council has been promoting British language and culture around the world and now this famous UK institution has some useful apps for learning English. There are a number of ESL apps on the British Council website that offer podcasts, videos, a pronunciation chart, games for kids and more. One of the best apps is LearnEnglish Grammar – a dedicated application with separate UK and US versions to help improve your grammar from beginner up to advanced level. Every difficulty level consists of 12 grammar sections, each containing 20 tasks. There are also clues to help if you are struggling to answer any tricky grammar questions.


This ESL app is currently only available for Android and has one simple purpose – to help users practise their English pronunciation. The app has over 900 phrases across a range of everyday conversation topics. Users can listen to a voice demonstration and then repeat and record the phrase. Englishly then rates the user’s pronunciation on a 5-star scale. You can also store your voice recordings and compare your progress over time. The voice recognition is not perfect, but this English app provides a fun way of practising your pronunciation skills on the move.


Google Translate app

This app has been around for a while, but it’s the latest functionality that makes it exciting. Google have now added a conversation mode, which allows you to interact via your mobile device with another person who does not speak your language. This two-way conversation mode supports 40 languages, including English. The second new mode to be added is camera translation, which allows you to translate signs and other written text just by pointing your phone in the right direction. As in earlier versions, the app still provides text translation in 90 languages and offers downloadable travel packs that can be used offline.

iOS / Android


This ESL app for learning English and other languages links users up via online accounts, which can also be accessed via the company’s main website. Busuu is the largest social network for learning languages online and caters for free and paying learners from beginner to upper-intermediate level. The free version gives you access to just 20 units, but there are 150 available to paid users. These units contain speaking tasks, short written assignments and multiple-choice questions. Users of the Busuu social network can help one another – playing the role of both teacher and student. They can also interact with each other using a webcam, microphone and live chatbox. One advantage of Busuu is that it can give you better access to native English speakers, who may be on the network learning your language.

iOS / Android

Reading is a great way of improving your English vocabulary and this ESL app is designed to select the right content for you. tries to recommend real native English texts from the internet based on your interests and the results of vocabulary tests done via the app. You can click on new words in the texts and articles you read to add them to your personal dictionary and learn later. As the content is selected individually, based on its relevance to your level of English and personal interests, motivation should never be an issue. This free app also allows you to create your own flashcards with audio/images and learn new vocabulary through a variety of games.

iOS / Android

Urban Dictionary

This massive online slang dictionary provides more advanced learners with insights into the real English being used on the streets of Britain and the USA today. With over 7 million definitions and more than 2,000 new entries added daily by UD’s growing online community, this app really offers everything you need to know about modern English slang. Note that some content may only be suitable for adults.

iOS / Android

How to be polite in English

A common complaint from overseas is that Brits are incapable of expressing their feelings directly, particularly when those feelings are negative or may cause offence. Moreover, it often seems that polite phrases in English are used by Brits to convey hidden meanings, which are only intelligible to their compatriots.

In a recent BBC World Service podcast German comedian Henning Weyn explored the challenging aspects of English being the world’s Lingua Franca, focusing primarily on how many problems arise due to foreigners misinterpreting the polite words used by Brits, both in personal and business situations. Many of the people interviewed, including a native speaker from the US, stated that their confusing interactions with British people led them to doubt their proficiency in the English language!

Indeed, this insistence upon hiding negative feelings or criticism behind seemingly positive polite expressions has caused such difficulties abroad that an anonymous author’s guide to deciphering Brit-speak gained considerable internet popularity. Most of the expressions can be found in everyday conversation in Britain and as such may prove very useful.

What the British sayWhat the British meanWhat others understand
I hear what you sayI disagree and do not want to discuss it furtherHe accepts my point of view
With the greatest respect…You are an idiotHe is listening to me
That’s not badThat’s goodThat’s poor
That is a very brave proposalYou are insaneHe thinks I have courage
Quite goodA bit disappointingQuite good
I would suggest…Do it or be prepared toJustify yourselfThink about the idea, but do what you like
Oh, incidentally/ by the wayThe primary purpose of our discussion isThat is not very important
I was a bit disappointed thatI am annoyed thatIt doesn’t really matter
Very interestingThat is clearly nonsenseThey are impressed
I’ll bear it in mindI’ve forgotten it alreadyThey will probably do it
I’m sure it’s my faultIt’s your faultWhy do they think it was their fault?
You must come for dinnerIt’s not an invitation, I’m just being politeI will get an invitation soon
I almost agreeI don’t agree at allHe’s not far from agreement
I only have a few minor commentsPlease rewrite completelyHe has found a few typos

Formal expressions in everyday situations

The indirect approach commonly associated with formal situations is absolutely crucial if you want to be polite in English, regardless of whether you are participating in a business meeting or asking for a refund in a shop. As a general rule, direct requests are a no-no and are seen as rude and demanding, even when they include the ‘magic word’ please;  “can you give me a refund?” or “I want a refund” require rephrasing along the lines of: “Would it be possible to get a refund?” or “Could I please have a refund?’ As the examples suggest, one of the simplest ways of ensuring that you sound more polite when making requests is to use modal verbs. Remember that politeness not only means being viewed more favourably by others, it also increases the likelihood of getting the results you desire.

Avoiding Confrontation

From apologising to someone whose clumsiness has left you with coffee all over your best suit to thanking the person who has given you a terrible haircut or a parking ticket – all of the weird and wonderful features of British politeness have been documented in this interesting Buzzfeed post entitled ‘British Problems’.

A common theme of ‘British Problems’ is the desire to avoid conflict at all costs, but in certain situations confrontation is unavoidable. The points below should provide some guidance on how to be polite in English when expressing negative feelings.

It is widely considered aggressive to “point the finger” at a person you feel is to blame, and a useful way of avoiding this is to “share” the blame or even imply that it is your own fault in order to resolve the situation! “Maybe I misunderstood you” is a polite way of letting somebody know that they either didn’t tell you something or explained it in a confusing way. Similarly, when frustrated by a person’s complete inability to understand you, it is best to say “perhaps I’m not making myself clear.”

If you must be negative, you can still be polite by softening statements like “I don’t like it”. To do this, you break them down with little additional words, so “I don’t like it” becomes “I don’t really like it, I’m afraid”.

Greetings in Modern Britain

Despite its enduring popularity in language courses, where it is taught as one of the most polite expressions in English, the greeting “How do you do.” has experienced a drastic decline in use amongst the British population, as the writer of this Guardian article examines. This is in part due to it being perceived as an outdated and excessively formal expression. Social anthropologist Kate Fox has lamented this trend, arguing that: “We should be mounting a campaign for its revival, because since “How do you do?declined as a greeting we havent known what to say.

It is true that there is no longer one standard way of greeting somebody and this can cause considerable anxiety amongst non-Brits about how best to respond. It is common to hear British people greet each other with far less formal expressions such as “How’s it going?” or simply “Alright?”.

In other countries to be asked how one is prompts a truthful, often detailed, answer. In Britain, it is expected that the person asked will respond with “Fine thanks, and you?” rather than detail their latest highs and lows. This is especially true when one encounters a casual acquaintance in a public place.

It’s not you, it’s me!

Brits are famous for asking “pardon?” instead of the direct “what?” (favoured by other parts of the English speaking world). British children often find themselves reprimanded for impoliteness if they do use “what?” when unable to understand something that is said to them. However, as many visitors to the country have observed with great amusement, the word “sorry” is now overused in so many situations that many Brits no longer have a need for “pardon?”.

This peculiar feature of British politeness has become so pronounced that even Brits themselves have become aware of it, and yet they are still unable to break the habit. A 2007 survey concluded that the average Brit apologises an incredible 1.9 million times in their lifetime. The phenomenon is examined in great detail in this article from the BBC website with readers providing their own interesting observations in the comments section.

Saying “sorry!” has been described as “a national tic”, something that people instinctively blurt out even when they are the victim of someone else’s mistake. In the Channel 4 television programme An Immigrants Guide to Britain, the full extent of the nation’s obsession with apologising was exposed, with actors causing considerable inconvenience to the British public. The reaction of the victims in each and every case was to say sorry to the unapologetic culprits!

However ridiculous Brits might appear, the fact remains that “sorry” is one of the politest words in the English language and it is also incredibly versatile; one can use this simple word to interrupt, express lack of understanding, apologise and disagree.

English for doctors: How to improve your medical English online

However, many overseas doctors and nurses lack the medical English needed to retrain and gain employment within the NHS. If you want to practise in the UK, you will likely be required to pass academic IELTS and PLAB examinations, so approaching a school that provides English for doctors could represent a worthwhile investment in your career.

English for doctors: IELTS and PLAB 1 & 2

In order to work as a doctor in the UK, most overseas med school graduates will be required to evidence their level of medical English by achieving 7.0 or higher across the four sections of the academic IELTS exam. While there are plenty of IELTS courses out there, it is worth looking into ways of specifically improving your medical English before you take any exams and apply for jobs in the UK. If you are short of time due to work or family commitments, then doing an English course for doctors online may be a more convenient option for you.

In addition to securing 7s in Academic IELTS, overseas doctors may be required to pass PLAB 1 & 2 examinations in order to gain limited registration and practise medicine in the UK. The aim of this test is to assess your ability to work safely as a Senior House Officer in a UK NHS hospital and requires a good level of medical English. PLAB 1 lasts 3 hours and contains 200 questions (extended matching and best answer) and PLAB 2 is a 14-station objective structured clinical exam that lasts approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes. Before taking PLAB you will need to ensure that your primary medical qualification (degree) is accepted in the UK by searching the World Health Organisation Directory of Medical Schools.

How to improve your medical English online

TRAINING: English for Specific Purposes (ESP) is a branch of English teaching that focuses on individual professions and the types of language they employ. When learning medical English it is important to work with a tutor who understands how English is used in your work place – preferably a teacher with NHS experience. Gaining one-to-one training and error correction is important if you want to speak English fluently and the internet offers a range of English courses for doctors that can be accessed via Skype at a time and place to suit you.

RESOURCES: There are plenty of websites offering English for doctors and study resources to help improve your knowledge of medical terminology, set expressions, hospital dialogues, etc. Here are 3 examples of useful online resources to improve your medical English:

  • Searchable online medical dictionary – Many medical terms originate from Latin and Greek so are similar across languages, but their pronunciation often varies and causes confusion. It is well worth consulting a dictionary such as this to make sure you get the pronunciation correct and understand all of the possible meanings of terms – both familiar and new.
  • British Council medical resources – A good example of a medical text with an audio sample to practise your work-related English on one of the UK’s most reputable education websites.
  • Youtube videos on medical English – There are plenty of videos on Youtube related to medicine, but it takes time to find useful material. The videos on this Youtube channel contain situational dialogues to help doctors practise their medical English online.

The financial rewards of practising medicine in the UK

If you are a medical professional, you will have heard of the NHS – the world’s largest and oldest single-payer healthcare system. This famous organisation employs over 150,000 doctors and more than 377,000 nurses (2014 statistics). Hospital consultants in the UK earn around £74,000-£100,000 per year and salaries for GPs range from £53,000 to £103,000 depending on whether they are partners in practices or employed by Primary Care Trusts. Fluent medical English is a must if you want to practise in the UK and enjoy the financial benefits of the profession. For this reason, taking an “English for Doctors” course should be seen as a worthwhile investment in your career and future life in the UK.

Understanding English conversation: How to speak like a Brit

Understanding everyday English conversation in the UK requires knowledge of colloquial expressions, regional variation in accent and dialect, phrasal verbs, connected speech, slang and cultural references. In this study guide we explain how Brits really speak English in the UK today.

What makes native English conversation different?

When non-native speakers use English, they often sound overly formal in everyday conversation because of their tendency to use standard forms or “the language of textbooks”. In contrast, when Brits use their mother tongue, they bring together a combination of colloquial English, regional forms (including accent and dialect), slang, connected speech, knowledge of UK culture and other elements associated with their “native language instinct”. Trying to understand this type of conversational English, which is often delivered at speed and with frequent changes of topic, is no easy task if you are learning English as a second language. However, English conversation practice and regular exposure to real British speech can help you speak in a more natural way.

How to kick off a conversation in “real” English

Contrary to the popular classroom stereotype, when Brits meet each other, they don’t start the conversation with the phrase “How do you do?”. This is an outdated expression, which is now confined to formal business introductions and the English aristocracy. Moreover, the simple “Hello!” has been largely replaced by the friendlier, and less formal, “Hi!”. The vast majority of Brits now favour informal regional greetings over those you will know from your English textbooks.

Here are several examples of common British expressions used when meeting/greeting friends and starting conversations in the UK:

“Alright, mate!” – Common responses might be: “Alright!”, “Hiya!”, “(*Nod*) You good?”

“Hiya!” – A colloquial version of “Hi!”, perhaps more common among women than men

“How’s it going?” – Usually followed by a short answer like: “Yeah, good thanks. You?” or “Not bad, cheers.”

“How goes (it)?” – A shorter form of the above. There are also funny forms like: “How’s tricks?”

“What(’ve) you been up to?” – An informal way of asking what someone has been doing since you last met. Common responses might be: “Oh, nothing much. You?” or “Had a couple (of pints) down the pub last night.”

Brits will not expect non-natives to know colloquial expressions like these, so you may raise a few eyebrows if you use them. If you spend time in the UK, you will hear greetings like these on a daily basis, everywhere you go.

The wider vocabulary of English conversation

Where written English tends to make use of standard forms, be well-structured and remain on topic, informal English conversation is the opposite – non-standard, spontaneous and chaotic. The speed at which spoken English is delivered can also cause problems for non-native speakers of the language, but perhaps one of the most important barriers to understanding is the vocabulary of conversational English, which often differs dramatically from that taught in ESL classrooms.

Colloquial expressions vs. standard forms

It is common in everyday English conversations for Brits to favour informal and colloquial language over their Standard English equivalents. Here are several examples of popular conversational words and expressions in British English:

Cheers – This word has multiple meanings, but most non-natives will only be familiar with one – i.e. what Brits say when they drink alcohol (simple toast). In fact, this word is used more frequently in English conversation to mean: “thanks” or “goodbye”. E.g. When you get off the bus you can thank the driver by saying: “Cheers, mate!”

Nice one! – Often used instead of “Well done!” to add more emphasis and emotion in conversational English. Other alternative expressions include: “Nice work!”, “You little blinder!”, “You’re a star!”. In American English, the equivalent would be: “Good job!”.

Knackered – Another example of a word that adds greater emphasis when used in English conversation. This word means “very tired” or “exhausted” and can be strengthened further, as in: “Totally knackered!” or “Completely knackered!”.

Gutted – This common UK expression means “Extremely disappointed” and is often used by Brits when talking about football teams losing in important matches, failures at work, girlfriends going off with other guys, etc. E.g. “We lost 5-0 to Arsenal the other day. I was absolutely gutted, mate!”

Dodgy – If something or someone is described as “dodgy”, it means it is: faulty, wrong in some way, possibly illegal or suspicious, not “on the level”, unfair, false, etc. E.g. “Don’t trust John! He’s a bit of a dodgy bloke.” (suspicious/criminal), “Watch yourself in that pub, mate. It can be a dodgy on a Friday night.” (meaning that you may get into trouble – beaten up, etc.), “My phone’s gone a bit dodgy. Can I borrow your old one?” (faulty, not working properly, “on the blink”).

Booze – A common British English term for alcohol. “Boozer” is an alternative word for pub or a person who drinks a lot. E.g. “Have you bought any booze for the office party yet?”

Bird/Bloke – These popular colloquial terms are used to mean “Woman/girl” and “Man/guy” respectively. “Bird” is similar to the American word “Chick” and would not be used in the presence of the woman being discussed. In contrast, the word “Bloke” is not perceived as rude.

“Mardy Bum” by Arctic Monkeys. An example of a track sung with a northern (Sheffield) accent with colloquial/dialect expressions. E.g. “Now then” (Form of address), “mardy bum” (funny term for a moody person), “right hard” (really hard), etc.

Phrasal verbs vs. formal terms

Conversational English in the UK has a tendency to use phrasal verbs over their formal equivalents. This often poses difficulties for non-native speakers as phrasal verbs are notoriously tricky to learn and are usually avoided as much as possible by those studying the language. Sounding natural in English conversation means getting to grips with phrasal verbs – both in terms of understanding and usage. Here are some examples of common phrasal verbs used in modern British speech:

Nip/pop out – This expression means “Go out for a short time”. E.g. “I’m just nipping out for 5 minutes. Can you take a message if anyone calls?” or “I’m popping (out) to the shop. Do you need anything?”

Turn up – Often used instead of “Arrive” or “Appear expectedly”. E.g. “We hadn’t seen Emma all morning, but then she just turned up.” or “Don’t worry about your (lost) keys. They’ll turn up.”

Pick up – A phrasal verb meaning “Collect” (on foot/physically or in a vehicle). E.g. “Give me a shout (call) when you want me to pick you up from work.” An alternative would be: “Give somebody a lift” (in a car).

Run out (of) – A common expression used in English conversation to mean: not have any remaining/left, be out of something (a product), use up. E.g. “We’ve run out of milk, so you’ll have to have your coffee black. That ok?”

Head off (up/down) – Brits often use phrases like “I’m (going/heading) off down the pub” or “You off up to Scotland next week?”. This can be confusing because there is not necessarily any slope or gradient involved in the perception of whether the destination is up or down in relation to the speaker. As a rule, Brits say “up north” and “down south”, but when going to the pub it is more usual to say “down” than “up” (unless the pub is specifically located at the top of a hill).

Popular expressions vs. outdated idioms

Spoken English is in a constant state of change. For this reason, you may find that the idioms you learned in class are no longer used by most Brits in their everyday conversations. If you use outdated idioms, it can have funny and embarrassing results as locals may find your English rather strange or eccentric. Therefore, it is important to listen to as much modern English speech as possible and to get feedback from a British friend or teacher to find out what is “in” and what is “out”. Below are a couple of examples of traditional idioms and their modern conversational English equivalents:

A piece of cake – As this now sounds like an old-fashioned cliché, most Brits would use the expression “No probs!” (no problem) instead. Note that the “-s” on the end must be used even though “No problem!” uses the singular form of the noun.

Cost an arm and a leg – Brits are more likely to use colloquial equivalents like: “Cost a bomb” (a lot of money, too much) or “Rip-off” (not worth the money paid, a cheat). E.g. “That old car cost a bomb! What a rip-off!”

Brits still love to use expressions connected with the notion of “fairness”, which is an important part of the national mindset. E.g. “Fair’s fair”, “In all fairness (to him/her)”, “Fair enough”, “Fair play”, etc. Comparative expressions like “Sooner or later” and “More or less” also remain popular in English conversation.

The use of slang in conversational English

British slang is mostly region-specific, although there are terms that are in general use throughout much of the UK. If you spend long enough communicating with Brits from a certain area of the country, you will acquire local slang words and expressions as they are an unavoidable part of modern English conversations. The way that slang is used (or avoided) is situation-specific, so if you do decide to learn it, you will also need to know when and where it is appropriate. If you would like to learn more, check out this list of British English slang.

The problem of pronunciation and connected speech

Another major barrier to understanding English conversation is its delivery. Brits often speak quickly, use non-standard forms (see above) and are likely to have at least some regional accent and dialect features. The strength of the person’s regional features usually depends on their social class; the stronger the accent/dialect, the lower the speaker’s social class status. Where accent relates to differences in pronunciation alone, dialect refers to both pronunciation and content (grammar, vocabulary, etc.). When Brits speak quickly, they use connected speech and short forms (contractions like “can’t”, etc.), which can also make it more difficult to understand conversational English.

Tips for improving your conversational English

The key to gaining better spoken fluency in English and being able to understand native conversation is regular practice and greater contact with the language. If you live in the UK, there are plenty of opportunities to go out and engage with the language spoken in your local area. However, if you are studying English in your home country, you are unlikely to have Brits queuing up on your doorstep for a chat! Where geography may be a barrier, the internet provides 24/7 access to all kinds of interesting native English material – from Youtube videos to podcasts, live radio and Google Hangouts. Watching video content on a regular basis can greatly improve your understanding of conversational English and expand your knowledge of popular vocabulary used in the language today. If you would like more structured training, then you could also look for an native English teacher online to provide weekly conversation practice and enhance your existing skills.

Ultimate guide to the best English lessons on Youtube

The age of books and blackboards is making way for exciting new learning strategies and internet-based content is king. English lessons on Youtube are an essential part of this new ESL revolution and offer students a new way of engaging with the language. In this comprehensive study guide we review some of the best channels offering English video lessons online.

Why study English through video?

Today, the internet is fundamentally changing the way we learn by providing unrestricted access to a vast range of information. According to some sources, streamed video content now accounts for around 50% of all global internet traffic. This statistic shows that more people now prefer to receive information in video format than through reading large volumes of text. ESL is one sphere that has embraced this new trend with open arms. Learners can now opt for a more blended approach to study by incorporating English video lessons into their personal education plans.

English lessons on Youtube

Youtube has videos on just about every subject imaginable but it can take time to separate the good apples from the bad. In this comprehensive guide to the best English lessons on Youtube we’ve done the hard work so you don’t have to. Let’s get to the videos!

Top 10 Youtube channels for English video lessons:

1) BBC Learning English on Youtube – This official BBC channel contains some great material on British English pronunciation as well as other interesting content covering a wide variety of subject matter. Lessons focus on everything from simple introductions to English grammar issues. Well worth a watch!

2) British Council Learning English on Youtube – Another well-known British educational establishment offering online video lessons for learners of English. Most content is aimed at younger and lower level learners but there are also videos (especially situational role plays) that may interest all students. English lessons mostly cover simpler aspects of grammar and vocabulary.

3) James (from Engvid)  – Something of an internet celebrity, this American teacher has an engaging style and makes English video lessons with a touch of humour. His videos are for learners of varying levels (see tags) and provide information on modern American English usage. Lessons are conducted in front a whiteboard to improve understanding and retention.

4) Online Teachers UK – Our very own Youtube channel offering educational videos on a wide range of topics. Alex Jude (Head of OTUK) is a qualified British linguist and provides insights into modern usage as well as specific material on typical mistakes made by Russian speakers in English.

5) Dave Nicholls – Another experienced British English teacher. His video lessons primarily focus on grammar issues and vocabulary (especially phrasal verbs) but Dave also produces material to assist students with exam preparation. New English lessons are uploaded to Youtube each week so you’ll never need to wait long for the next instalment!

6) Anglo-Link – Long-established Youtube channel with plenty of lessons from Minno – a British English tutor. The main focus of this channel is on tricky aspects of English grammar and pronunciation. Some videos have been produced in collaboration with other native English teachers, which helps to develop a fuller understanding of the material covered.

7) Rachel’s English – American accent training from an experienced online teacher. Her video lessons will help you gain a good grasp of American English sounds and how they are produced (some theory involved). There are clear diagrams and Rachel presents her material in a clear and engaging style. Great for those who are learning American English.

8) Doing English with Julian – A rather eccentric Englishman offering video lessons on learning strategies, lexical distinctions, idioms and other confusing aspects of the English language. Some content is filmed when Julian is out and about, which adds a new dimension to his videos.

9) Chris Workman – Yet another eccentric Englishman eager to help the ESL world! In his video lessons, Chris explains about everyday English, including regional accents and slang usage. He also has several “sing-along” lessons in which he plays English songs on the guitar. Although his singing may not get him on MTV, his English study videos are certainly worth watching if you’re after something a bit different!

10) Collolearn – Dubbed by some “The American rapper-tutor”, this teacher has a unique style all of his own! Many of his Youtube videos use rap in the classroom to encourage students (some of whom look a little shocked!) to remember vocabulary through rhyme. An altogether unusual approach, but one that is certain to engage.

If you like our selection of Youtube English lessons, don’t forget to subscribe to the channels so you get updates on any new videos. Build these learning resources into your own study plan and watch a video a day to improve your English. You can also interact with other learners and teachers via Youtube comments.

How to practise English online

Regardless of your geographical location, a fast internet connection provides access to modern learning resources, up-to-date information, audio and video material at the click of a mouse button. In addition to self study, Skype English practice is also an option for those wishing to improve their speaking skills.

Why seek English practice online?

The vast majority of ESL learners live in non-English speaking countries and this means they are at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing native English resources (especially tutors). The internet provides unrestricted access to precisely these ESL resources and makes geography largely irrelevant. Many learners complain about having no time to study, but if you practise English online, you can use a whole host of resources 24/7. This flexibility allows learners to shape their studies around their busy daily routine to ensure regular English practice and steady progress. Online ESL resources come in all shapes and sizes so there is no excuse for adopting old-fashioned learning strategies or using boring study material. The variety offered by the internet means that practising your English online can actually contribute to better overall motivation.

Creating an online study plan

Before you start looking for ESL resources online it is a good idea to decide what you really need. Begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Where do my weaknesses lie?
  2. How much time can I dedicate to my English each day?
  3. How can I connect English with my hobbies, interests and study goals?

Once you have pinpointed several weaker areas to work on and set aside some time to study (perhaps 30 minutes per day), you can look for resources to help you practise English online. As mentioned above, one of the most productive ways to learn English is to establish connections with subjects you are already interested in and engage with well. For example, if you are a tennis lover, why not read the latest news on the Wimbledon website? Or if you are crazy about British accents, why not watch some short videos about them on Youtube? Learn to view English as a lifestyle and not just a boring school subject! This is a good starting point.

5 top tips for practising your English online

Here is our top-5 list of the best ways to gain good English practice online:

1) Only use websites and study resources that provide native English content. These might be well-known organisations such as the BBC, British Council or Cambridge Examinations, but also websites run by native English speakers. Stick to 100% English language sites and avoid those written and managed by non-natives who may lack knowledge of correct English usage. If you are going to practise your English online, it is important that you practise correct English.

2) Use social media! Don’t think of English as a purely academic subject when its primary function is as a “means of communication”. Many learners fail to gain good spoken English and listening comprehension. Don’t be one of them! Branch out and make contact with other ESL learners by using social networks like Facebook, Twitter and language exchange websites. Join English speaking groups and engage with others to make new friends and practise your English online. This type of informal communication (even with non-native speakers) will help improve your fluency in the language, gain confidence and learn new vocabulary.

3) Take advantage of the best online tools and resources. The internet is full of websites offering ESL tools to help improve all aspects of your English – from vocabulary to listening skills. Here are some to look out for:

4) Go mobile! Take your English with you everywhere you go by downloading mobile apps for your tablet or smart phone. There are hundreds of great apps available for iphone, android and windows phones so check out some reviews online and visit your app store to get the best tools available.

5) Skype English practice with a British tutor online. Most aspects of English can be studied without a teacher, but if you want to achieve real results with your speaking skills, then an online tutor is probably the best option. A native English teacher will help you practise your English online through a personalised programme of conversational lessons focusing on error correction, fluency and style.

How to improve your English speaking online

While this approach makes financial sense for motivated learners, it has a tendency to leave knowledge gaps, especially in the student’s practical ability to converse freely in English. For this reason, more learners are choosing to improve their English speaking online through a variety of methods. Where local opportunities may be limited, the internet provides infinite scope for regular speech practice.

Why learning English is like learning to drive

Many disciplines that we learn in life have two aspects – theory and practice. Imagine you are learning to drive. You read all the theory books, study the road signs and answer test questions. This should guarantee you a good pass mark on your driving theory test, but what happens when you get behind the wheel of a car for the first time? Will you be a great driver from day one? The answer is: probably not. Your theoretical knowledge of driving must be balanced by your practical experience of actually driving a car. The two aspects of the discipline are essential and interconnected. This is the same when studying languages and you should make a conscious effort to improve your English speaking skills.

No substitute for real conversation

When learning a foreign language, there is no substitute for real speech practice (or conversation). It is a vital part of the language acquisition process and should not be ignored. Many non-natives who claim to “know” English tend to be good at theory but much poorer at speaking and listening. This is often explained by their lack of opportunities to converse regularly in English. In reality, there is no excuse for being out of touch because the internet connects us all. Where local opportunities are limited, learners can improve their spoken fluency online.

Improving English speaking skills via the internet

There are a number of ways to gain English conversation practice online. Some of these are free, while others are paid services. It is a good idea to start by making a list of your possible options. Use the “resources” that are already available to you through your family and friends, work, studies, etc. For example, if you have an old friend in New York, maybe you should re-establish contact or if your colleague at work speaks great English, perhaps you should converse with them in English sometimes. Every little helps.

5 ways to improve your English speaking online:

  1. Use social networks like Facebook to find groups of learners interested in live conversation practice in English via Skype. The vast majority will be non-native English speakers but this type of practice can be of use as long as you do not acquire mistakes from your speech partner.
  2. Do an internet search for language exchange websites and look for interesting people to communicate with via VoIP. You may find native speakers interested in learning your language. Remember that Brits and Americans are always in high demand on these websites so be prepared to “friend” non-natives too.
  3. Listening well is an important part of learning to speak better. Stream Youtube videos, serials and films in English (with or without subtitles) to improve your understanding of English conversation. Make a note of new vocabulary and try to imitate native speech patterns that you hear when watching videos. Having a correct native model to emulate is often helpful.
  4. Don’t forget about your pronunciation! Your aim should be to gradually improve and “sharpen” your distinctions between similar sounds in English or those that are problematic for native speakers of your mother tongue. Do an internet search for pronunciation resources and exercises from the BBC, British Council and Youtube.
  5. Consider taking Skype English lessons with a British English teacher to help improve your English speaking online. Classes of this type guarantee regular, one-to-one speech practice with a trained native English tutor from the UK. Your teacher will provide constant error correction and help to reduce the number of mistakes you make in the language. These lessons are tailor-made and focus on the individual study needs of the student.

IELTS speaking lessons by Skype

For this reason, many students opt to prepare for IELTS speaking by Skype with a certified native English teacher. This approach has several advantages as it saves valuable revision time while providing targeted one-to-one training with an experienced IELTS speaking tutor. Remember to start your lessons for IELTS early to ensure great results.

The IELTS speaking section

Students who are not used to communicating with native English speakers often do poorly on the speaking section of the IELTS exam. This is due to a lack of regular speech practice. Lessons with an IELTS speaking tutor by Skype can improve fluency in a relatively short time, but it also helps to understand the structure of the exam before getting started.

The IELTS speaking test is divided into three parts and lasts 11-14 minutes in total. This section is the same for both types of exams – general and academic IELTS. Students communicate with the examiner, who is usually a native speaker of English. Part 1 focuses on general topics about yourself and family, part 2 examines a specific topic and part 3 explores this topic in greater detail. This test is designed to recreate natural conversation as closely as possible under exam conditions and to assess the student’s ability to communicate verbally in English.

IELTS speaking tutor vs. help from a friend

Many IELTS websites suggest students practise their IELTS speaking by Skype with a friend in order to save money. This can be a good idea when seeking additional training, but a friend is unlikely to be a qualified teacher or native English speaker with IELTS experience. If you want to go into your speaking exam with confidence and improved fluency, then lessons for IELTS are a good short-term investment. Preparatory courses focus on practical skills and exam technique while offering individual error correction and helpful pointers from a trained native English IELTS speaking tutor.

How to practise

Review real past papers from the IELTS speaking exam with your teacher to gain a good understanding of the format and content of the test before you begin. Work through the three parts of the test with your IELTS speaking tutor, recreating exam conditions by timing your interaction. You will need to concentrate on speaking English clearly, fluently and correctly. However, to achieve a higher score avoid oversimplifying your speech. Mock IELTS speaking tests should be conducted spontaneously so preparing your answers in advance in not an option. You may like to record yourself during your preparations so that you can compare your performance as your exam course progresses.

Sign up for IELTS speaking by Skype

If you already have an exam date in mind, then there is no time to lose! Contact OTUK today to book your 15-minute trial consultation with one of our native English IELTS speaking tutors. Our tailor-made courses will help improve your IELTS speaking by Skype to ensure you realise your full potential and achieve the result you deserve.

British English speaking courses online

E-learning tends to be more cost-effective than face-to-face classes and tuition is usually provided on a one-to-one basis. This means better value for money and more individual attention from your Skype tutor. With its added flexibility, distance learning is a great way to ensure regular speech practice.

Learn online with a native English teacher

There is no doubt that working with a native English teacher is the best way to ensure that you learn correct English grammar and natural sounding pronunciation. Finding a native English speaker in your area may be difficult due to the shortage of qualified tutors. Learning English by Skype solves this problem. There are a wide variety of British English language courses online and all you need to do is select the best one for you.

Why take a British English speaking course online?

Today, few of us lead a quiet life or have lots of time to study. Unfortunately, this is a fact of 21st century living. Whether you are a student, business person, parent or have other commitments, finding enough time to study English can be a challenge. Opting to take a British English language course online will allow you the flexibility to arrange your English lessons around your normal weekly schedule. You can choose a short intensive course or a longer learning programme depending on your study goals and time frames.

Selecting the right British English speaking course

If you want to learn British English, then you will need to contact a British online language school. Many students prefer the sound of the British accent and the traditional spelling and grammar rules. At the end of the day, the choice is yours, but do be aware that there are clear differences between American English and British English. The latter tends to be viewed as the classical form of the language and is often preferred in academia and business.

Request a trial consultation by Skype

It is important that you feel comfortable with your Skype English teacher. Many of the English language courses available online will offer you the opportunity to have a trial consultation before you sign up. This may be a trial consultation or a single paid Skype lesson. This will give you the opportunity to meet your teacher and decide whether or not they are the right tutor for you.

If you are interested in taking a British English speaking course online and want to discover the many advantages of e-learning, contact OTUK today for a 15-minute trial consultation.

Learning English by Skype

This shift away from traditional classroom education is being fuelled by students’ desire to save time, cut costs and gain access to native English by Skype. E-learning empowers ESL students and provides study opportunities that are often unavailable in their local area.


In the globalised world, a good grasp of English can open many doors. English is the international language of business and travel, but also provides the means to acquire a vast wealth of firsthand information via television, publications and the internet. While studying English by Skype is a relatively new approach, it fits in neatly with this concept of English as a global language. What could be more global and inclusive than the World Wide Web? There will always be a pressing need for native English tuition in non-English speaking countries and distance learning will continue to play an ever-greater role in its provision.


In the future, learning English by Skype is likely to be the only realistic way for many students to gain access to native English tuition. The fact is that demand for native ESL training in non-English speaking countries – especially in developing regions like Asia and South America – is far greater than the capacity of native English tutors on the ground. There are simply not enough locally-based native English teachers to go around. Private language schools often hire native speakers and provide them with visa support. This makes tutors reliant on the schools, which then enjoy a monopoly on native English tuition in the local area. This leads to higher lesson prices, larger class sizes and less choice for the student.


The internet is a means of global communication and provides access to services and information regardless of geographical location, time zones and other limiting factors. The number of people learning English by Skype is increasing in line with rising demand for native English tuition. Distance learning has several key advantages over older classroom models:

  • Students learning English by Skype can do so from any location with a fast internet connection.
  • Skype schools offer competitive rates compared with local providers.
  • E-learning involves zero travel time so more energy can be devoted to actually studying.
  • There are far more native English teachers working online than there are in the student’s local area. Students who want greater choice often opt to learn English by Skype.
  • One-to-one tuition ensures rapid results and an individual approach to study.

How to prepare for a job interview in English via Skype

Today, many HR managers conduct an initial job interview via Skype before inviting the potential candidate for a face-to-face meeting. Those who are not used to communicating by video conference in English may be apprehensive about having a Skype job interview, but there is really nothing to fear. With the right guidance and online job interview preparation with a native English teacher you will gain the fluency, style and confidence required to make a winning impression.

It is important to remember that the principles of interviewing do not change just because the recruitment process has moved to an online format. You will be asked the same questions, will have the same interviewer and will be expected to behave in a businesslike manner just like at a face-to-face interview. However, getting used to the technology and online format is important and it is worth practising your Skype job interview technique prior to the big day.

Types of job interviews

There are two main approaches to modern interviewing – factual and behavioural. Traditional questions will be fact-based and designed to acquire or check information about your previous positions, duties, education, family status, age, etc. On the other hand, behavioural questions will focus on trying to understanding how you behave in various work-related situations; the premise being that future performance can be predicted based on your past behaviour and analysis of it. Here is an example of each question type:

Traditional: “When and why did you leave your previous place of work?”

Behavioural: “Give me an example of a conflict situation you encountered at work and how you dealt with it.” (Follow up: “Do you feel your response was appropriate? Who was to blame for the argument?”)

Job interviews via Skype

When you have a job interview via Skype in English you can expect to be asked both traditional and behavioural questions. It is a good idea to write lists of questions that you think may come up during the interview – i.e. if you were the interviewer, what would you ask? Then you can start thinking of the best way to answer and convey a positive self image. Preparing alone is much harder, so ask a friend or relative to help you through role-playing and Q&A. If you are concerned about your fluency in English and lack experience of interviews in the language, then job interview preparation with a native speaker by Skype is worth considering.

Skype job interview checklist

Before you have your job interview on Skype make sure to check the following:

  • Technical set-up – Is your computer working properly? Try several test calls to make sure that your video and sound levels are correct. Use an external webcam and headphones to improve call quality. Make sure your internet connection is fast and reliable.
  • Environment – Are you in a quiet place with no distractions? Remove any inappropriate objects that are in the webcam’s field of vision – e.g. clothes drying on the door, children’s toys, strange personal possessions, etc. Your setting should appear neutral and business-like.
  • No interruptions – Ensure that others in your house or office know that you are having a job interview via Skype and do not wish to be disturbed. Turn off your mobile and landline. Change your Skype settings so that you do not hear sound alerts when other contacts type messages (path: tools-options-sounds-incoming IM in recent chat).
  • Dress for success – Although the interviewer will only be able to see your face and upper body, make sure that you are dressed appropriately. Appearances do matter, even online!
  • Body language – look at the webcam as if you were looking at an interviewer sitting opposite you. Try to relax and be yourself. Reduce gestures to a minimum as your hands will often be out of shot. Avoid nervous or defensive body language such as crossing your arms, scratching your face or touching your hair. Keep your hands in your lap and avoid playing with small objects on your computer table, such as pens and other stationary.

If you would like to prepare for your job interview online with the help of an experienced British English tutor, then visit our homepage to request a trial consultation and get started today.