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Better English Through Ten Simple Steps

Mount Everest (topgold)

Mount Everest (topgold) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Learning a language can appear as difficult as climbing Mount Everest. Many students feel that the climb is too hard and quit before they reach the top. In order to help you with your climb up the mountain of English it is best to remember that any climb is just a few steps up, followed by few steps more.


Here I present to you ten simple steps to help climb up the mountain. If you faithfully follow these simple steps, like any mountain climber you will finally be able to stand at the summit of your learning and confidently look around, proud of your accomplishment.



Step 1) Reverse plan


Every student begins with grand plans to study and then slowly as the work gets hard and English becomes boring some fall away from the plan only to feel bad about themselves.


I suggest a reverse plan. Every time you study, keep notes about what you did and how you feel. The more you study, the bigger your reverse plan will become and you can see exactly how much work you’re really doing. The longer your reverse plan becomes the greater your pride as you see your progress.


Reverse planning also helps you learn what areas you spend too much time on and where you need to improve.



Step 2) Make as many mistakes as you can


It’s true that the fear of making mistakes is in all of us. Try to forget about it. Mistakes are good! They are to be enjoyed because we learn from our mistakes. Each time you make a mistake you will learn something new in English. So… be happy in your mistakes!


When a teacher corrects you, repeat the correct version, don’t be shy and just nod your head. Really try out the right way to do it and soon you’ll be looking for a new mistake to make because that old one is no longer a problem.



Step 3) Study everyday, but only for 10 to 20 minutes

English: Standard clock face designed to assis...

English: Standard clock face designed to assist in learning to read. Clock reads 12:14 (am or pm) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The biggest step towards improving your English ability is simply to study everyday.


Too many students leave off their English studying until just before exams and then try to cram study leaving them with very little real English learning.


It is far stronger to set aside ten to twenty minutes everyday and really study. Studying for three or four hours leaves your brain tired and not really responsive to learning. Short study periods of ten to twenty minutes will lead you to greater gains— If you focus and actually do it everyday of the week (Sorry but that means holidays too! Yes, even your birthday!).



Step 4) Don’t compare yourself to others


Far too many students try to compare themselves with other students and then either become discouraged because someone knows English better or find that they are the best in their group and relax in their study methods.


You, as a student of English, will always find students better or worse than you. Compare yourself only with yourself.


Do you know more than you did one year ago? Do you know more than you did one month ago? Do you know more than you did last week? Do you know more than you did yesterday? By constantly checking yourself against yourself you will see what progress you are making and what areas you need to work on.



Step 5) Use only English in English classes


It surprises me every year when I teach students in my English classes that without fail one student will turn to another and ask in their first language, “Please, give me an eraser.”


Strange behaviour. For I am certain that both students understand and can use the phrase (in English): “Please, give me an eraser.”


Using even the simplest words and phrases that you know in English will make the act of speaking that much easier in the end. Not speaking will ultimately make any sentences said in English far more difficult.



Step 6) Look for chances to use English


The only way to learn English is to use it.


Seek out your English teachers and talk to them about anything. Listen to the radio in English. Watch English television and films. Join English clubs and study with friends. Make your own study group that meets every two weeks, go out together and say, “Tonight we only speak English” not to study, but to talk about your lives and interests in another language. Spend part of everyday looking for another chance to use English. More ideas are here: Better English Speaking



Step 7) Read, read, read, and when you’re finished, read some more.

summer reading

summer reading (Photo credit: ruminatrix)


If there is anything that language teachers agree upon it’s that reading is the best way to improve your vocabulary. Look for books, magazines, comic books and newspapers and try to find anything you are comfortable with. Ask your teachers and friends for new things to read. Take whatever you are reading everywhere you go and fill up the empty time reading in English.



Step 8) Keep a ‘timed diary’ or journal


Like planning, many students try to keep a diary and then give it up. Far too many students try to write too much, or think that they have to write a lot everyday.


A timed diary uses time in two ways.


First, try to write at the same time everyday. Set a time like just after lunch—you write, or just before bed—you write. Keep the same time everyday (yes, even your birthday) and it will become an easy habit.


Second, set a time limit on writing. Start at three minutes and work up. Write only as much as you can in that time. If you only write a sentence, great! Only one word? That’s great too! A sentence or two in three minutes everyday is a great step forward, for it is a sentence or two that you wouldn’t have written at all!


When writing every day becomes a habit, slowly make your writing time longer. Go from three minutes to four… then five… then six. Don’t be in a hurry to write more. Slowly make your time longer, like add a minute every two months.


Try to write using the new words you learn everyday to help remember them.


Once a month, take a day off from writing and go back to see if you can find any of your own mistakes, because if you remember Step #2: Mistakes are good!



Step 9) Make the Internet your friend


It has become cliché that the Internet is a great English resource, but sometimes clichés are true.


Some of the best study material can be found for free on the ‘Net. Certainly you can find things here at TesolGames to help your studies but other sites are around. I recommend Dave’s ESL café as a great starting place. Surf to Merriam Webster Dictionary when you need a free online dictionary that even has sound files of words so you can practice pronunciation! To listen to good spoken English radio: Try CBC Radio for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation or BBC Radio for the British Broadcasting Corporation or NPR Radio for National Public Radio from the United States.



Step 10) Don’t give up when you plateau


Unlike other kinds of learning, students learning languages seem to learn more and more until they plateau where learning becomes difficult. At his point, no matter how much a student tries she doesn’t seem to learn any new words or fix her mistakes of old. It will almost feel like you can’t learn anymore. (The truth is you are still learning, it is just that you will see it less and less.)


Prepare for the day. When climbing up the English mountain and you reach a knowledge plateau remember: Don’t give up.


  • Keep studying.

  • Keep speaking.

  • Keep studying.

  • Keep practicing.

  • Keep studying.

  • Keep reading.

  • Keep studying.

  • Keep writing.

  • Keep studying.

  • Keep listening.

  • Keep studying.

  • Keep trying.

  • Keep studying.

  • Keep learning.

  • Keep studying.


Before you know it, you will be learning more and more again and you will be back on the path up the mountain.


I promise.


A variation of this article was first published in the Tomyong Times, Pusan Korea


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Last updated: May 26, 2013 at 18:54 pm



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