Use English every day! (But take it up a level)
I get it. You already know that you have to use a language every day to elevate your understanding of the language. In fact, that’s probably why you understand this article and seek to understand more. Let me explain what I mean.
How to Learn English by Thinking in English
Many students in the intermediate level of learning a language tend to plateau. They’re fluent and know anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 words. They can get around and easily and converse with people about most basic topics. It’s a very comfortable place to be in!
But, there’s something missing. The intermediate plateau leaves out a lot of specialized topics. There is slang and jargon that isn’t understood. Intermediate level learners may still make some common errors due to lack of confidence in their knowledge of the language. They can’t play with the language to communicate what they truly mean. A lot of jokes and humor might not be understood. Basically, they’re missing out on a lot of things going on!
To elevate your understanding of English you must immerse yourself in native speaking materials and exercises. But not necessarily those from a textbook. Learning textbook English is great (and necessary!) and gives you the rules, but it will be your job to use them in real situations. This is the point where you need to step out of a classroom and start learning on your own.
Many people who grow their English comprehension explain that the path to upper level comprehension involved complete immersion into materials that native speakers consume (books, tv, movies, music, newspapers, magazines, podcasts, blogs, etc…). If you need help with resources to study, we have a comprehensive list here.
Through consuming native material, you’ll increase your understanding of idioms, common phrases, slang, jargon, and even some regional dialect if you plan to live in a particular area. These are the tools you’ll need to start filling in gaps in your language learning.
The idea behind native immersion is to start thinking in English so that your responses to phrases you read or hear are converted immediately into English in your head. A great way to start the process is to constantly write responses to things you read or hear.
When you read a book, write a paragraph or two stating your opinion of the chapter.
When you read a newspaper article, write a paragraph stating your opinion on the article.
When you see a movie, write a summary of what you think the message or idea of the movie was.
One of the best exercises is to pick a blog you enjoy reading and comment on it. You can start with this one by commenting below!
Notice how these exercises deal with more than just the facts and events in the material. To raise your comprehension level, you must understand phrases and ideas in English that are abstract (existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence), and you must use them every day!
How to Learn English Vocabulary at the Next Level
It’s great to learn the basics, but when taking your English to the next level, you have to increase your vocabulary. To understand and communicate opinions, you must expand the range of abstract words, idioms, and general vocabulary you use to show a higher understanding of the language. This is the type of thinking and communication that distinguishes one level from the other. It will also reduce the number of errors you make in your communication.
Using Labels and a Word Journal to Increase Your Range
Aside from using the immersion techniques discussed in the previous paragraph, it helps to create a labeling system for yourself to have a visual reference to the word that you are learning.
For example, a mid-level or intermediate English speaker may know what it means when someone says, “Close the door.” However, many Americans will use the word shut instead of close when they ask someone to close a door.
Both phrases mean the same thing, but to increase your English level, you must know and understand each phrase. Labeling the door with a reminder note that says “shut the door” can help you remember the phrase.
Another technique to increase your vocabulary is a word journal or diary. This is a journal you can bring with you wherever you go. When you hear a word, phrase, or idiom that you don’t understand, write it in the journal and then find the meaning.
This technique helps you to engage in writing, reading, and listening to phrases, and will greatly increase your understanding of the language. You can use these resources to create a digital journal, or use an old-fashioned journal (my favorite!).
Recently, I read a story about an English student who kept a journal like this, and within a month, he created a list of over fifty phrases he either had never heard or didn’t have a clear understanding of.
Here are some examples of phrases he wrote in the journal:
- Break a leg
- Better late than never
- Get something out of your system
- Make a long story short
- Under the weather
- Pull someone’s leg
- You can say that again
- Your guess is as good as mine
That list can continue for pages, but you get the idea. Start your journal today to increase your vocabulary and take your English to the next level!
Work on Pronunciation
It’s great to know a lot of words in English, but what good does any of it do if you can’t correctly pronounce the words? Non-native speakers will have an accent when speaking another language (and that’s okay!), but you do need to have a level of pronunciation that will help other speakers to understand you clearly every time. With that in mind, let’s look at some tips for how to learn English speaking.
Using Dr. Seuss to Help Pronounce Words
If you really want to improve your English pronunciation, let me introduce you to Theodor Seuss Geisel who is known worldwide as Dr. Seuss. His books are popular in English education worldwide, so if you’re an intermediate or mid-level English speaker, you may have already seen one of his books in your classes.
*Note that Dr. Seuss uses some made-up words in his writing, but that is also an opportunity to build and test your vocabulary.
Using Dr. Seuss isn’t limited to just learning English at the basic level (He wrote his books for children). It can also help you create the rhythm of English pronunciation in your head that will help achieve the goal of thinking in English.
The books contain rhymes that will help you adjust your palette and clearly pronounce a wide range of consonant and vowel combinations. Also, because many of the books are written in poetic form, they will help you create a rhythm of speech in your head that will translate to anything you want to say.
Reading his books out loud at any level can help an ESL student improve their pronunciation and learn abstract words and phrases in English.
Think it’s crazy? Here is a video of an English teacher using a popular poem from Dr. Seuss to help students improve their pronunciation.
Listen to the Radio
Another big help with pronunciation is found in listening and repeating what you hear on the radio. Granted, you may not have the best singing voice (Trust me, I don’t either…), but using music is a great way to train your mouth in using a language.
Studies have shown that imitating phrases in a new language can help you with native pronunciation. In fact, when a music teacher teaches a choir a song in a foreign language, he or she won’t give the choir the written words. They teach the song through calling and having the choir respond with the proper notes and pronunciation.
If you want to fast-track your way to better pronunciation, turn on your radio! Plus, songs help you recall new words and phrases at a faster rate than if you learned them by listening and repeating with no music.
For additional advanced resources on how to learn English, here is another blog we posted about making your English sound more natural. And remember– there is no one best way to improve English. All of the tips above can help you in unique ways. And if you want to go even further, consider online English classes from Magoosh English Speaking.