10 Tips for Successful English Language Learning (ELL)

This is not the first time you have heard much of this information if you’ve been reading my posts or watching my videos, but much of this information is worth repeating – so let’s dive right in!

Tip number one:

If you’re going to school to learn English, don’t waste your time. I’m not saying don’t go to school. Lessons are indeed helpful. What I am saying, is to take advantage of the time there. Make sure you are using English, and not your own language, as much as possible.

Speak English in and out of class for as much of the day as possible. Spend time with people who have the same goals.  Avoid people who insist on speaking another language with you.  Yes, you might have to choose your friends based on this if you are serious (check out this post for more information). You and your friends of the same mother tongue should imagine that none of you actually speak your native language. Answer in English when your peers speak to you in a different language. A big regret of many students studying English at university is not having spoken more with their peers. Don’t be like them.

Tip number two:

Accept that learning English takes time. You’ll need about 500 hours of deliberate practice to get a working ability.

When you use deliberate practice, you focus & push yourself, you reflect & get feedback as soon as possible, and then you make changes based on feedback. A typical English language course might meet twice a week for 90 minutes over four months. That’s only 45 hours, and you may not often be actively practicing. You need at least 10 times that amount in deliberate practice to become a good, basic -level non-native speaker. If you want to communicate at a higher level, of course you need many more hours.

Up to 95% of your English language learning might be occurring outside the classroom. Especially if your goal is to improve your speaking, you need to find opportunities to practice outside of class time. Don’t cram, by the way: a small amount of time every day is better than all day on Saturday.

Tip number three:

Find other learning resources, because a textbook will not be enough. Try the following:

  • Podcasts & Youtube videos
  • Movies & TV
  • Websites & Blogs
  • Downloadable books, worksheets, files…
  • Apps & games
  • Online chat buddies, community groups, courses outside MIC
  • Magazines, books, newspapers, the Internet…

Check out my post on online reading resources and language exchange for some examples.

Tip number four:

Learn to tolerate ambiguity. Ambiguity is a situation that is vague or that you don’t fully understand. When you’re learning another language, you want to know so much right away, but that just isn’t possible. You can’t understand everything at once, so you have learn to become comfortable even when you don’t know what is going on. Ambiguity when you learn a new language (or travel to a new culture) is expected and very normal. Trust that over time and with practice, things will start to make sense.

Tip number five:

Embrace mistakes. You can learn from them. We learn from a lot of trial and error when speaking English as learners. You’re going to say a lot of stupid things. Accept it.  Don’t feel the need to learn everything at once. Correct yourself when you find mistakes. Ask your peers and teachers to correct you if you want them to. Otherwise, they may not. Ask questions whenever you have them.

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

“No questions, no answers!”

Tip number six:

Set S.M.A.R.T. goals. Smart stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. The best language learned goals are ones which can supply answers to these questions:

  • What do you want to be able to do, specifically?
  • How will you know when you have reached your goal?
  • Is it in your power to be able to reach your goal?
  • Is your goal realistic?
  • By when, exactly, do you want to be able to achieve it?

Check this post about S.M.A.R.T. goals I made some time ago if you what to know more.

Tip number seven:

Create Habits and avoid burnout. It’s impossible to be highly motivated all the time, so be create regular study and practice habits for those times when your motivation is low so that you can reach your goals. Studying and practicing should become like brushing your teeth; something you do without thinking too much about it.

Try to add one English language study habit at a time. For example, you could write for 10 minutes every Monday, Wednesday & Friday. Some believe it takes about 21 days to create a new habit. Try it and find out! Just don’t try to create too many new habits at once, or you will increase your chances of failure. You could lose motivation and risk stopping altogether, which is not helpful.

Tip number eight:

Read – ideally every day!

  • Reading widens your vocabulary base.
  • Reading improves your grammar competence.
  • Reading increases your knowledge.
  • Reading translates into better oral skills (eventually).
  • Reading is enjoyable (if you chose topics that interest you).
  • Reading is relatively easy to do on your own: books, newspapers, magazines, journals… + anything on the Internet

Check out my posts on extensive reading and intensive reading for more information.

Tip number nine:

Go abroad – to somewhere where English is spoken. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a place where native English speakers are the majority; it can be somewhere where English is spoken as a lingua franca. Anywhere where you have to communicate using English is a great environment to be in as an English language learner.

  • Go someplace where your native language is not spoken.
  • Study or work or play – your choice!
  • Spend as long a time as you can afford (save money beforehand).
  • Find other non-native speakers – they often make better teachers than native speakers, and might share a lot with you.
  • Fall in love with a local English-speaking woman or man. Romance is an enjoyable situation for language learning.
  • Join similar interest communities abroad (via apps like meetup.com).

Tip number ten:

Have fun!

The more enjoyable something is, the more likely you are going to want to continue doing it, so find ways to make it enjoyable if it currently is not. If you take your learning too seriously, you might be getting in your own way. So relax and enjoy it. Try to gamify your learning through a variety of apps of software or classroom activities. Talk to your English language teachers for advice.

I hope those tips make sense to you. You don’t have to use them all, but keep a few of them in mind for your future study and practice.

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