reading comprehension · reading tips · speaking · vocabulary

English Learning Tips for 2016

Make this your best English learning year with these tips.

I’m not saying these tips are original, but sometimes you just need to try something small to make a big change.


Read? Really?

People read more than ever, but it’s mostly social media and personal messages. As you’ve probably noticed when you read snippets in your own language, your friends are terrible at grammar and their vocabulary is poor. Really want to enrich your life? Grab a book, a quality newspaper, a story, a poem or a magazine. The world is at your feet when you read, or eh, at your fingertips. And have you ever wondered why some people are wiser and more authoritative than others? That’s because they read stuff that is longer than Whatsapp.

Use your Dictionary

I know, some teachers tell you to read a story or watch a movie intuitively. They say you don’t need a dictionary which will only take you out of the story. That’s true, but if you want to check the meaning of a word, it’s still good to use a dictionary. Make it a rule to look up one word every day and you will soon know how to use many more words. Don’t learn long lists of words. You will only forget them the next day.

reading cat

The Best Way to Use a Dictionary

The best way to learn new English words is by looking them up in an English dictionary. You can either buy them new or second-hand or download them (illegally), but there are plenty of online and app dictionaries too. What you might want to use is an English learner’s dictionary. These are written especially for you. Yes, you’re reading it correctly. English dictionary publishers have bothered writing an English dictionary especially for foreign learners. It’s very nice of them, isn’t it?

English learner’s dictionary means the explanations are in easy English.

If your English is at a high school or college level, what you need is an advanced learner’s dictionary. These are the best ones:

  • Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary
  • Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
  • Collins COBUILD Advanced Learner’s Dictionary
  • Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary
  • Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners
  • Merriam-Webster‘s Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary; like the other dictionaries by Merriam-Webster, this is only available in American English.


All these dictionaries have their own websites where you can look up words. I’m not sure that all these dictionaries have mobile apps but I’m sure you know how to find those yourself.

Watch a Series

Can also be a documentary series. Some language learning experts say that you learn more English from watching (and reading) non-fiction than from watching fiction. There might be something in that.

Try David Attenborough’s favourite moments or his newest series “Life.” 

Here’s a list of the best documentaries of 2015.  The way to find these online is: type the name of the documentary in google plus “Watch online.” With some patience you will usually find a working link.

Use Snapchat to Review New Vocabulary

Snapchat can be used for vlogs (video blogs) that are alive only for 24 hours, unless you or one of your friends and followers download them onto their telephones. You could use your vlogs to make a very short (maximum 9 seconds) videos about a subject that you decide. It could be about something that you learnt in your studies or also some phrases to practise for work or social situations. If you don’t know a word that you want to use, look it up in your dictionary, or ask a native speaker.

If you’re too shy to make a video about yourself, it might help to think that your video will be gone by tomorrow.

Follow a Course in English

For example from Coursera.

Coursera offers courses in lots of different disciplines from the best universities, mostly from the US. Their courses in programming, finance, management and grammar (!) are among the most popular, but you can also update your knowledge on neuroscience or learn a new language. I’ve done a few courses on the platform myself, in ESL teaching (of course) and in language and logic, and they were all excellent and interesting. The site is free to use, you just need to register to be able to watch the video lectures and do the quizzes. Some courses require you to buy a book. If you’d like a certificate, which is excited to earn and may be useful in your career, then you need to pay money. However, it’s still far cheaper than doing a real university course.

By the way, some lectures are translated, but do you really want to translate them? I don’t think so.

One of the most fun things on Coursera is talking to your fellow students on the Forums.

Really hate reading?

Here are a couple of things you probably haven’t thought about doing and that require reading:

  • Infographics. Educational and fun. You can find lots of them on Pinterest, on any imaginable subject, ranging from famous lawsuits to where to drink tea in London and lists of the best romance novels. Here are some that I collected. 
  • Take a fun quiz. You can find a lot on my Pinterest Quizzes Board. Or check out Buzzfeed.
  • Take a quiz on English with a Smile. You’ve come to the right place to learn English.
  • Get paid for answering surveys. Unlike those annoying phone interviews about how many printers you keep at your house or office, these websites will pay you for taking surveys. You can choose between Amazon vouchers or hard cash. Of course this will only help you when you fill in your answers in English. One of the best sites is My Survey.

Do It Yourself

All of these tips would be even better if you wrote stuff yourself. Language is what makes us humans unique, right? Once you know English you can communicate with the whole world, or at least large parts of it. Let us hear your voice. Share your unique ideas with other interested people. Write a story, a poem, a project plan or pen a long email to a friend. You might also want to consider writing a review of a book you’ve read on Amazon. If you get really good at this writing stuff, you will be able to sell your services on Fiverr or other freelance websites or magazine. There are lots of jobs for writers, although I have to say that most don’t earn a lot of money.

Tips for Speaking

The best way to improve your speaking abilities are, first, do it a lot. You can talk in English with a friend. Here are some tips for that. 

If you have more budget, you can take a speaking course or learn with a private teacher. Online Skype lessons will cost you at least $5 per hour, but a more usual price for a native teacher is $10. Before you point out that is expensive, you need to consider that the cost of living where these teachers live is high.


Is she listening to Adele? Of course not, she’s listening to her favourite English podcast.

Good Speakers are Good Listeners

Before you can be a good speaker you need to work on your listening skills too. Many English learners enjoy listening to podcasts and these are very good as you can listen to them wherever and whenever you like: before you go to sleep, while driving or riding your bike or riding the bus. Or put on your headphones whilst you’re doing sports or running.

Here’s a list of some popular poddies made for English learners.

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