Full guide for those who want to learn English. In this article you will read about how to learn vocabulary and grammar, and practice speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
This article is for beginner and advanced learners of English and for those who are wondering how to approach the language. We have compiled tips and resources for every level of learning from Beginner to Advanced.
Features of the English language
Fixed word order. English belongs to the group of analytical languages. It has many parts of speech and a clear word order: subject, predicate, and one or more objects. Paraphrasing is acceptable, but rarely.
Phrasal verbs. These are expressions consisting of a verb and a preposition or adverb: put up with, slow down, get lost. There are similar constructions in other Germanic languages, but only in English are they used with such love, whether it be in everyday life, work, study, politics, or science.
Genderless nouns. English nouns have no gender. The advantage here is that you need to coordinate parts of speech only by number.
Special pronunciation. The rule "as it is heard, so it is written" does not work in English. The writing of this language is based not on a phonetic, but a historical principle. For example, the word daughter is read as [dɔːtə].
One word — different parts of speech. Another phenomenon of the English language. Some words change their part of speech, tense, and stress, but not their appearance. For example:
Read — present tense, read — past tense
Present — a gift, present — to give
Close — near; close — shut
A multifaceted language. English has long ceased to be uniform. There are American, British, Australian, and even Singaporean versions of the language. Within each country, there are many dialects and slang expressions. This is especially noticeable in the UK, where there are four varieties of English in London alone. And not all of them are "royal".
Smart borrowing. There are many loanwords in English. Everyday speech and basic concepts come from the Germanic and Scandinavian languages. And English owes its "beautiful" expressions to French. Compare: freedom (English) — liberty (French); love (English) — affection (French); friendship (English) — amity (French). Science is dominated by Latin and ancient Greek: substance, thesis, metaphor, conjunction, etc. Knowledge and use of these words is an indicator of education.
How to learn English on your own
In this block, we will give you some tips on how to learn English.
Begin learning the language as a whole. Don't focus on any one skill. All elements of English are interconnected. Without reading, you will not replenish your vocabulary and will not be able to communicate competently. Without listening to foreign speech, you will not understand accents and pronounce words correctly. Focusing on a specific skill is suitable for those who already have a strong base of English. Let's say you're studying for the IELTS exam, and know that you're not very good at listening. In that case, it is logical to devote more time to this aspect. But at the initial stage of learning, it is better to study the language in its entirety.
Learn the language with fun. Make the process interesting for you. It's easy to catch the enthusiasm for learning English because it's so popular. But staying motivated is harder. Try to diversify your learning: apply the acquired knowledge of English to what you like. Are you a computer game lover? Play and chat with foreigners. Love fashion? Read American or British Vogue. Find your niche where you will use the language with pleasure.
Make mistakes. Don't be afraid to look stupid. If you are not a BBC announcer, no one will notice your accent and style of presentation. Native English speakers are very loyal to how you pronounce words. The main thing is to convey meaning.
Practice every day forat least half an hour. Lack of practice kills even the most advanced level of English. And all aspects of the language are important. If you only watch Netflix, your writing and speaking skills will noticeably drop.
15-25 thousand words make up the vocabulary of a native English speaker. For foreigners, 10 thousand is sufficient. With that amount, you can say that you are fluent in English. For understanding and communicating in everyday life, 3000 words are enough (without complex structures).
How far you are willing to delve into learning English depends on your goal. But you still need to learn vocabulary, at least the first 100 words. Even with such a small margin, you will be able to express simple thoughts, "want, drink, shop, me, juice." Simple and clear. If your goal is to expand your vocabulary, use different techniques.
Learn words from flash cards
Return to childhood. Memorizing foreign words with flash cards is a well-known method. Its essence lies in spaced repetition. On one side of the card is a word written in English, and on the other — its translation. Learn words by laying out cards from several piles. Did you memorize the word? Put it in a far pile. Forgot it? Return it to a closer deck and repeat it again.
Such cards are sold at bookstores, but you can also make your own. If you compile them on your own, you will already remember the word, its translation, and spelling. At a higher level, you can specify its meaning in English. Another option: write not only the word, but a small phrase to go along with it. In doing so, you will immediately remember how to use it in a sentence.
Organize words into groups
Another way to learn new vocabulary is to organize words into groups. These can be:
Thematic groups (kitchen: knife, bowl, cup, fork, etc.)
Root words (able, ability, disability, enable, etc.)
Similar words (beautiful, charming, splendid, pretty, fine, etc.)
Expressions with one phrasal verb (put aside, put on, put out, etc.)
This method is good to use in combination with flash cards: distribute them among different topics.
Learn words in context
Learning a language in context means to immediately make sentences from new vocabulary. And be sure to say them out loud. This way you will learn how to use new words in conversation.
Online resource where you can learn words from either your own or ready-made flash cards
Two opinions exist about the importance of grammar at an elementary level.
First: you need to focus on vocabulary, and grammar will follow later. You can communicate with a native English speaker without coherent wording — you will still be understood.
Second: grammatical constructions are a must. They allow you to understand the meaning of the phrase even without knowing individual words.
The choice of approach to learning grammar is up to you. If you need English for work or study, grammar is indispensable. If you are learning it for traveling, a basic grammar base is sufficient. Determine a set of constructions that you will definitely need. For example, simple tenses, singular vs. plural constructions (there is/there are), several phrasal verbs, and modal verbs (can/be). This is enough for the beginning.
Learn to understand the structure of the language
We advise beginners to first understand the structure of the language: how phrases are built, what parts of speech and simple tenses are. Don't jump right into the Present Perfectand irregular verbs. Learn grammar gradually. At a basic level, you just need to understand what parts of speech look like and their order in a sentence. Here is an example from Alice in Wonderland: "All mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe." Those who know the language already see the structure: pronoun, adjective, verb, noun, and so on. The meanings of the words are not clear to us, but we feel the general meaning of the sentence. This is because we understand the grammatical structure of the phrase.
Knowing grammar rules and using them in real life are two different things. It makes no sense to cram them from morning to evening. It's both boring and useless. Grammar constructions need to be practiced, both in writing and out loud.
Live English speech is different from a textbook disc recording. To understand how native speakers communicate in real life, listen to current radio shows and podcasts, and watch TV shows. That way, you will learn to recognize words by ear, understanding intonations and accents. The latter is especially important in English. If you are used to American English, you will not understand British posh in the right way: loo instead of toilet, cab instead of taxi, and the eternal word bloody. New Zealand and Australian accents are infamous even among native speakers.
Listen to the radio and podcasts
This is a great way to "feel" the language in real life. For beginners, educational podcasts are suitable. For example, the BBC regularly posts three-minute recordings on various topics — especially for those who study English. Interesting podcast series can be found on the British Council website. And the Podcast in English resource allows you to select audio files by language level. If you want to achieve an American accent, look for podcasts on American English Podcast and Voice of America.
Gradually increase the difficulty of what you are listening to. Listen not only to podcasts, but also to the radio. Try to diversify the materials with programs from different countries, such as ABC Radio Australia or Virgin Radio UK. The general rule when listening is to understand at least 80% of the words. If half of the spoken phrases are incomprehensible, try an easier podcast.
Watch TV-shows and series
Learning English by watching TV series sounds tempting. But this method is only suitable for improving skills. It will not work without a certain amount of knowledge. If you are itching to turn to this method, watch special educational series, like Extra. This is a British sitcom that teaches foreign languages. The dialogues of the characters are simple and understandable, designed specifically for basic proficiency.
When you attain a good amount of vocabulary, move on to more serious things, but with subtitles. First in your native language, then in English, and eventually turn them off for good. If you're already at an Advanced level, be sure to turn on comedy shows. Understanding English humor is the pinnacle of language proficiency.
You can watch TV shows and movies in the original formats on streaming services: Hulu, Netflix, HBO. The main idea is to watch what you like. Love Friends? Excellent. Prefer documentaries about whales? That’s great too. The only disadvantage to this method is that after watching films in English, dubbing in your native language becomes unbearable.
Listen to lectures and audiobooks
Another option for listening — lectures in English. This is especially useful for those who plan to study abroad, given that it provides the means of listening to and memorizing academic English. There are many lectures on Coursera and university websites such as Oxford, Harvard, and MIT.
If you love fiction, try audiobooks in English. Beginners can start with children's books, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There are even audiobooks voiced by famous actors. How do you like this combination of pleasure and practicality? The downside is that many audiobooks aren’t free. However, you can always try a free month trial on Audible or look for affordable options on Digital Book.
Podcast about science: current topics, myths, and explanation of scientific phenomena
Reading is an essential skill for anyone who learns English, especially when it comes to studies and work. Through reading, you replenish your vocabulary and consolidate your knowledge of grammar with vocabulary. Granted, such a question arises — what should you read?
An adapted book is a simplified version of a known work. They are suitable for those who have just begun to understand the English language. If you don't want to buy a book, look online — for example, on English e-Reader. If you are still learning how to read, practice with small texts, like those offered on Rong-Chang. Adapted books provide a list of new words for each chapter. They are clear and simple. An interesting option is The Cat in the Hat. This children’s book consists of only 220 words and is suitable for the Elementary level. Every book you read motivates you to further learn English.
This is a method in which you read a text and its translation, literary or literal. You have two languages in front of your eyes: English and your native language. As a rule, they are located on adjacent pages: on the left is the English version, and on the right is the translation. There is another option in which translations are opened by clicking. This way, you can see the translation of only the phrases you are interested in. Parallel reading is not for everyone. Firstly, you need to have already mastered the basic rules and skills of English. Secondly, it may be unusual for you to read a text on two pages. There are a number of resources on the Internet with parallel texts: the Smart Book and Parallel Books applications, etc.
When you have moved on to the Intermediate level, proceed to the "real" literature. Start with those books that you have already read in your native language. This way, you will know in advance the essence of the work and the translation of some phrases. Raise the level slowly. It makes no sense to tackle Jane Eyre immediately after the Kipling stories. When reading a book, pay attention to grammatical constructions: how the author builds phrases and uses parts of speech.
Choose novels carefully. There are many beautiful words and correct grammar in the classics, but there is no actual vocabulary. Spice up your reading with contemporary books. They have slang and trendy themes that will be useful today, rather than the 19th century.
First, determine how important this skill is for you. If you are learning English for the purpose of tourism, it is not particularly useful. But for international exams and education abroad, spelling and knowledge of different text styles are vital.
Find a proofreader
To develop your writing skills, you need to find someone who is willing to proofread your writing. You can ask native speakers for help. For example, HiNative is a convenient service built in a question and answer format between foreigners. If you are not yet ready to communicate with English speakers, use literacy testing applications: Grammarly or Sentence Checker. However, these applications only check for actual spelling, punctuation, and style errors. Thus, it is better to contact someone who speaks English.
Correspond in English
Find yourself a pen pal, preferably among native speakers. You can find one on Interpals, Conversation Exchange, Hello Talk, Ablo, and others. By communicating with a native speaker, you improve your writing skills. But remember that the "native speaker" label does not mean perfect language proficiency. Think about how often speakers of your own language make mistakes. The same occurs with the British and Americans. This method is ideal for practicing and developing an existing base, but not for learning from scratch. In the latter case, it is better to turn to similar platforms that are aimed specifically at education like Italki. There, you will find not just a pen pal, but an English teacher.
Keep a diary or blog in English
The key to developing writing skills is practice. To make this process interesting, try journaling in English. Another entertaining form of writing practice is keeping a blog. Start leaving comments on social media networks and get an English-language account on Twitter or TikTok. Doing so is good for developing language skills and overcoming shyness.
Site where you choose your level and complete assignments: essays, personal letters, reports, etc.; works are graded from A1 to C2
For beginners, speaking is the most attractive part of the learning process. In fact, for many, it is the main goal. They don't need grammar and spelling rules. The main thing is to learn to understand and be understood. How do you begin speaking English?
Speak words out loud
Newbie advice couldn't be easier — say your first words out loud. Learned the pronoun I, the verb eat, and the noun soup? Put them into a sentence and verbalize them. Congratulations — you have just started speaking English! It's far from perfect, but the first step has been taken. Now, repeat the same thing with all of your learned words, immediately putting them into practice. This is how you develop the habit of speaking English. You need to deal with speaking right away. Otherwise, the moment will come when you have a large vocabulary and knowledge of all 12 tenses, but you’re incapable of putting them into words. You should get used to using the language and feel comfortable.
Expand your vocabulary
It is necessary to correctly replenish vocabulary, which is both active and passive. Active vocabulary are those words that we use regularly. Passive vocabulary are less used words that are collected in our heads. We know these words, but we do not use them in colloquial speech. To understand the difference between active and passive vocabulary, compare your reading and speaking skills. Let's say you read in English and understand the words ubiquitous, tremendous, and aberration. But when you want to use these words in speech, you just can’t seem to remember them. The only way to fix this is with practice. Make up sentences from these words, be sure to speak aloud and repeat them in variations. This is how you can incorporate them into your speech.
Communicate in English
The most effective and interesting method of communication is with a native English speaker. There are several applications where you can find a speaking buddy: Tandem, Easy Language Exchange, and others. If you are a travel lover, use the Couch Surfing service. Through it, you can find a person who is willing to give you shelter in another country. But even if there isn't a native speaker nearby, don’t be discouraged. Go to conversation clubs and have game nights in English with friends.
Immerse yourself in the language environment
The best way to learn a language is to move to a country where it is spoken. This way, a person enters an environment where everything is in English. Most of the time he listens, reads, and lives in this language. If you don't have the opportunity to travel to London or New York, create a language environment at home. Watch TV, listen to the radio, read, play, and think only in English. Use it in the little things. For example, translate your phone layout and all social media networks into English.
Application for finding local residents willing to host you in another country
We all want to speak English without an accent. But is it possible? English has so many dialects that one can forget about any single form. There is, of course, RP — Received Pronunciation — the standard of the royal family and BBC announcers. But in reality, only 2% of the British population uses it[-]. Therefore, in the case of pronunciation, our first advice is to humble yourself. You will never speak with a perfect English accent because it simply doesn't exist. Choose the version of the language that you like and focus on it. Do you dream of speaking like a Bostonian? If you are determined to perfect your pronunciation, here are a few recommendations.
Learn phonetic transcriptions
At first glance, phonetic transcriptions seem like a relic of the past — an echo of old school methods. In fact, knowledge of transcription allows you to understand the pronunciation of words. Yes, this is not the first thing many people start with to learn English. However, for good pronunciation, you need to understand how words are written phonetically.
Work with a professional
To develop proper pronunciation, you can’t do without the help of a specialist. This is what linguists do. They explain special techniques, the position of the tongue and teeth, among other subtleties. You should contact a linguist if you are striving for RP or want to keep your native accent to a minimum so that no one suspects that you are a foreigner. The downside is that their work is expensive. The method is suitable for those who already have an excellent command of the language.
Learn pronunciation by listening
You can get rid of a strong accent on your own. The main thing is to remember that there is no way of escaping it in the beginning of the learning process. Listen to as much English speech as you can and repeat after the speaker. Do it out loud or quietly, moving your lips. It will take a lot of time and practice, but the results will soon follow. Watch a series of videos from the BBC where they show the correct pronunciation.
Don't forget to work on intonation. In English, it is markedly different. No matter how rich your vocabulary or good your accent is, you will not sound like a native speaker without proper intonation. Listen to the radio, podcasts, and repeat after the speakers. You can even repeat lines from your favorite movies. For example, "Say hello to my little friend!". And don't forget to add more expression.
A common mistake of those who learn English on their own is to grab accents from different sources. Try to be consistent. At first, beginners don’t see the difference between dialects and remember everything they come across. The result is porridge. You can start with American, put in Australian slang, and end on a high Irish note. This will definitely expose you as a foreigner. Are you planning to live in England? Listen to and learn a British accent.
English is the most popular language in the world. 1.35 billion people speak it — one seventh of the world's population. Only Chinese comes close to it. But while the latter holds an official status in only two countries, English is the official language of 55 nations. In that sense, it fully justifies the title of a global language.
English for studying
Knowing English gives you many opportunities to study abroad. However, your choice is not limited to the UK, USA, Canada or Australia. Universities around the world are opening programs in English: this is how they attract more foreign students. You can study English programs in Germany, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Russia, etc. But pay attention to the price difference. In many countries, education in the national language is cheaper or completely free, but English-language programs are the most expensive.
Moreover, in order to study in English, you must have a proficient language level — not lower than B2-C1. For language courses and short-term programs, the requirements are lower — A1-B1 is sufficient. Universities accept IELTS, TOEFL, and Cambridge Exams. TOEFL is more popular in America, while IELTS is common in England. For universities in non-English speaking countries, the required exam is indicated in the requirements. As a rule, this is the same trio: IELTS, TOEFL, and Cambridge.
English is a monopolist in the field of science and education. It is the language of most academic journals. If you want to conduct scientific research at the international level, you need to know the language.
English for work
Knowing English is a valuable skill. CELA research has shown that employers offer better conditions to candidates who know English. They move up in the company twice as fast and receive promotions. But, "English for work" is an abstract concept. To narrow it down, you need to start from your specialty and place of employment. If you aspire to work at a company abroad, you will need a language level of B2.
When learning English, focus on professional vocabulary. You can’t learn certain aspects of the language separately, but you can focus on "essential" skills. For example, pay more attention to business correspondence or communication with foreign clients.
Another reason to learn English is for immigration. The US, UK, Canada, and Australia are among the top ten most popular migration destinations. In America, which ranks first, the share of migrants is 15% of the local population.
Those wishing to move to an English-speaking country must speak the language at a decent level. This is necessary for the adaptation into a new society. But not all immigrants are required to know English at C1. For children, spouses, and other family members, it is sufficient to have beginner knowledge of the language. To confirm your level of English, you will need an IELTS or Cambridge Exam certificate.
There are a number of intricacies in learning English for immigration. First, focus on everyday vocabulary. Your main goal is to learn the language so that you can communicate in life situations: hospitals, hairdressers, migration offices. Much of this will come with time, but it's best to have a head start. A second point is to study the cultural aspects of the country you are planning to move to. Some language schools offer special English immersion courses. Finally, you can take a chance and come without any knowledge of English at all. In America, for example, many migrants live in isolated communities where they speak only their native language. But think about it — is that really the purpose of your move?
English for travel
Due to its prevalence, English has become the first language for travelers. It seems that there are people who speak English in every country of the world. This is partly true — the question is how many. For example, in Russia, 63% of the population is "familiar" with English, but only 5% speak it fluently. It would be easier for foreigners to learn a couple of words in Russian — this way they will be understood faster. English is mostly spoken by residents of European countries. Thus, it is not necessary to learn all of the languages of the European Union to travel around the continent. But in Asia and South America, English isn’t at all prevalent.
A tourist does not need to know complex grammatical constructions. Therefore, if your goal is to learn English for travel purposes, you can study it yourself. Plus, you do not need knowledge of writing: only conversation and the ability to understand your interlocutor. Who knows, maybe you will start learning English for travel, and eventually reach the Advanced level!
English for yourself
English can be learned without a big goal in the form of study or work. Often, people are fond of learning English "for themselves". The reasons can be very different: to watch movies in the original language, read Jane Austen, understand teammates in MMORPGs, etc. By learning something new, you train your brain — neural connections are created. It has been scientifically proven that foreign languages develop memory, improve concentration, and simply broaden one's horizons.
English proficiency exams
International English exams are taken for various reasons:
Certificate required for admission to a foreign university
Language proof required for a work or immigration visa
Proficiency check for personal reasons
Confirm English skills for work
It is suggested to prepare for English exams in advance. The main thing in any of them is to study the structure. As a rule, they consist of four blocks: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. In fact, all of these exams are standardized tests. Therefore, the key rule in preparation is practice. Try to finish the tasks as fast as you can and practice skills for each part of the exam.