By Colm Boyd

13 Nov 2019 - 11:06

6 tips: how to learn English quicker

Antonia (54), a housewife from Cuenca, has learned to speak Mandarin Chinese in just 4 weeks with this simple method!

So I was informed the other day by a pop-up ad. Well done Antonia, I thought. You have achieved what even the most expert polyglot would find impossible. The fact is that the internet is full of companies making dubious promises of quick fixes. It’s clear that learning a language takes both time and effort. And yet it’s also clear to any language teacher that learning is far from a linear process. Over the years, many of my students have reminded me of trainee drivers, alternating rapid acceleration with moments when the engine is stuck on go-slow. This blog post looks at some ways to bring more of those moments of acceleration to your English studies.

1. Get organised

Before discussing any techniques to speed up your English learning, first you need to answer the question “When?”. True learning requires regular study and usually lots of recycling. If your goal is to learn English quickly, you’re going to need several study sessions a week. Can you set aside an hour most evenings? If not, can you spare some time on weekend mornings? Or can you fit some study into your existing timetable like during lunchtime or your morning commute? So step one, decide when your study can happen. Be realistic and stick to the plan.

2. Prepare for an exam

Some students’ only wish is to simply study English, without the pressure of preparing for a big exam. While this can be a valid approach, I sometimes remind my students of the motivating power of an exam. No matter how old the student, exams tend to strike at a childish fear-factor. We don’t want to do badly or waste money or have our friends know that we failed. This brings a certain degree of adrenaline, not only on exam day but also in the weeks and months beforehand. I have seen many lacklustre students turn into super-nerds in the final months before an exam and make giant leaps in level. So whether you’re interested in getting qualifications or not, remember that an exam can be the catalyst your English needs. Find out more about English exam options at British Council.

3. Do some volunteer work in English

When I first came to Barcelona, I did some volunteer work at a centre for children of immigrants. I taught reading skills (in Spanish) to 6/7 year olds who, like me, didn’t speak great Spanish. Was I the best person for the task? Clearly not. Did the kids learn to read better? I think so. Did I have to learn Spanish at break-neck speed? Absolutely! With a little research, there are many ways that you could volunteer in English. If you have the time/money, you could look into work-abroad programmes like WWOOFing. Otherwise, look into possibilities in your local area. Spain is full of casals for kids, residencias for older people, etc. who could be more than happy to have a volunteer lead a weekly class, workshop or reading session in English. You don’t need to have native-level English to do it, you just need to be able to offer what you already know. Any experienced teacher will agree that the best way to learn something is to teach it. So teaching as a volunteer can truly be a win-win.

4. Don’t just watch TV series, make them your language course

We all know that watching series can be an entertaining and useful way to learn. There’s an abundance of series to enjoy, meaning if your goal is to learn more quickly then you’re going to need focus. Rather than having the vague goal of watching whatever and picking up new expressions here and there, why not choose one series which is going to be your home language course? Try to pick one which is relevant to your life. I have some lawyer students who do this with The Good Wife and on a weekly basis amaze me with the legal jargon that they’ve acquired from the show. This useful list of TV series could help you choose. Once you’ve selected a show, watch it in an active way. This means turning on the English subtitles and occasionally pausing to note down useful or interesting expressions. Remember to regularly return to these notes to make sure the language sticks.

5. Use an e-reader

The debate over paper-book or e-reader goes out the window when it comes to reading books to learn a language: the e-reader wins, end of story. Several of my higher-level students have astounded me over recent years with amazing language that they’ve picked up from books ranging from the Hunger Games adventure series to Andre Agassi’s revealing biography, Open. The advantage of the e-reader lies in its convenience. Use the dictionary function to simply click on challenging new words and see an immediate pop-up definition in English. If your device allows it, download the audio to listen to the pronunciation of words and expressions as you read. Many e-readers have a Vocabulary Builder which allows you to store new words and expressions, leaving you with a list of new language at the end of each book you read. Return to this list regularly to test your memory. Try it with just one book and you’ll see the boost that an e-reader can give your English in just a few weeks.

6. Use the internet to its full potential

Heading online is the obvious first step when you’re interested in learning English more quickly. But are you making the most of online possibilities? One great way to speed up learning is by using language apps. Many free apps like Memrise or the British Council’s own range allow you to make rapid progress and also track it. Another option is to use Facebook groups or MeetUp to put you in contact with other people from your area who form cinema groups, book clubs and language exchanges to learn and practise English. And let’s not forget the power of the internet to turn anybody into a geek. Learning English quickly is often simply a matter of focus. So choose an English-related area to become an expert in, then research it in English and practise explaining it. You might choose a curiosity about Canada, a famous Welsh popstar or a classic Australian movie. I mean, can you imagine how impressed you’d be if you met a girl who was able to talk to you in Spanish about an old Almodóvar movie or some Chiquito de la Calzada expressions?

Be focused, set time in your schedule, set goals and revise regularly. And whether you’re watching a thrilling series or reading a gripping e-book, don’t forget to enjoy your English studies. Unlike Antonia from Cuenca, these tips can’t guarantee native-level fluency in just a month but they can definitely provide the short-term English boost you need to impress your boss, your friends or even yourself.