When practising your English speaking skills at home, it all comes down to intention and consistent effort. But what does that mean on a day-to-day basis, and what kind of daily activities can you do to learn?
Rebecca Axelson teaches English to non-native speakers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) College. Over the years, she’s gathered numerous tips for learning to speak English as an international student. These are the best ways to learn English at home.
Make a personal commitment
When learning English by yourself, you first need to make a personal commitment. Rebecca suggests promising to yourself that, “for this period of time, I am completely focused on my study and I’m 100 per cent committed to that.” This applies if you’re a student currently in Australia or are studying in your home country via an Australian tertiary institution online.
If learning online and speaking with friends on a video call, the temptation can be to socialise and use your native language instead. What’s the solution?
“Set that personal commitment to only use English, even if it’s extremely challenging,” says Rebecca. “Even if you need to really push yourself out of your comfort zone. That’s the strongest piece of advice I can give.”
Create a dedicated study space
Each day before practising, try to create a pleasant space around you – your bedroom, your study, or wherever you are – to get yourself into the learning mindset.
To minimise the chance of feeling nervous while other people are nearby, remove all distractions.
“Make sure your room is clean, your camera is in a good spot, your sound is working, and you can hear properly,” says Rebecca. “Somewhere you have privacy is important too.”
With privacy, you’ll be more relaxed and confident while learning.
Take advantage of technology
Another piece of advice is to seek out online spaces where people gather to practice speaking English.
“Joining dynamic online places is definitely going to improve your reading, writing and speaking,” Rebecca says.
You can learn English online for free by meeting people on forum websites like Reddit.
Rebecca also suggests searching for videos that explore grammar and pronunciation. Apps and websites like Quizlet, Kahoot!, Memrise and Busuu can be effective (and fun!) ways of practising, as can using English-language video games to build listening and speaking skills.
Seize every opportunity to learn
If you’re studying at a tertiary institution, make good use of your teacher or tutor to practise speaking English during class.
“Any other opportunity that is offered to you by the provider is a valuable opportunity,” says Rebecca. “That person is there to help you, to support you.”
“Making connections with other students through social media, through your preferred app, could be a good opportunity outside of class,” says Rebecca.
Watch or listen to the news
Speaking of technology, Rebecca believes watching or listening to the news can be helpful when developing your listening skills, which directly impacts your speaking. One good outlet she suggests is SBS News in Easy English, a daily news service designed for second language learners or people with disabilities.
Connect with peers
If you’re lucky enough to have someone at home who can speak English with you, go for it! Otherwise, finding a group of like-minded people to practice speaking English with can happen in person, as well as online.
“Find a group of people that you trust, starting with your classmates,” says Rebecca. “Find something that is interesting to both of you and try to explore that topic.” Plus, “if someone doesn’t understand you, don’t give up – keep trying.”
Watch TV and movies
How about learning English from TV? If you have access to English-language content, don’t hesitate!
“It can definitely be helpful to watch TV and movies, 100 per cent. Any exposure you’re getting to English is going to be great,” explains Rebecca.
Remember to watch in moderation:
“There’s no point in watching a two-hour movie and thinking that you’re going to learn a heap of English from it,” says Rebecca. Instead, “choose a short scene, watch it two or three times, taking notes, writing down vocabulary.”
Then, watch the scene again using subtitles to reflect on pronunciation and word choice.
Rebecca’s top three tips
- Set a good, positive intention at the start of each day, to keep yourself motivated and on the right track.
- Seize every opportunity to learn, whether that’s with family, friends, peers, teachers or people online.
- Understand that it takes time.
“Be aware that learning is a process,” says Rebecca. “Learning takes years. It’s not going to happen in two days. It’s a lifelong experience.”