How to form an English-learning routine that you’ll actually stick with.
1. FORM GOALS TO LEARN ENGLISH SUCCESSFULLY
A common practice in business development is to set SMART goals, or goals that are:
Getting in the habit of setting SMART goals is critical for language learners. Learning English will take a long time, so setting specific landmarks along the way will give you direction and motivation.
“To be fluent” is vague and hardly measurable. More specific, attainable goals would be:
To study vocabulary every morning at 10 a.m. for 30 minutes, until I can have an everyday conversation with a native speaker.
To read one English newspaper article every evening, and look up unfamiliar words until I can comprehend the entire story.
To spend 30 minutes on every lunch break studying a survival phrase book until I can survive for one week in a country that speaks English.
Get in the habit of setting a series of short term goals so you always have a specific task to work on. Achieving a series of small goals will lead you to the ultimate goal of fluency.
2. ASSIGN A PLACE FOR STUDYING
It may help you to associate a certain room or place with your English. Assign an area or room in your house as the “English only” area, and go there only to study. Surround yourself with learning materials and sources of motivation for your language studies.
You don’t have to limit yourself to your house, of course! Pick any place that you find conducive to studying that does not offer major distractions.
Search for a cozy coffee shop and bring your backpack full of resources.
Find a park bench or shady tree and sprawl out with a good English book every weekend.
Flop down on a chair in a study nook in the local library and take advantage of the language resources libraries offer!
Become a regular wherever you go. Chat with the barista or the librarian. Make it a comfortable space that you look forward to visiting each week to study.
3. MAKE USE OF DEAD TIME
There may be days when you don’t have 30 minutes to sit down and study. Get in the habit of using dead time to study, even in brief intervals.
Dead time is any period where you can multi-task well enough to absorb the language: commuting, waiting in line at the store, cooking, etc.
Work studying into your dead time on a daily basis:
Listen to radio stations or podcasts in English during your commute.
Turn on some of your favorite music in English and dance around as you cook, clean, and do chores.
Turn on a TV channel or watch a YouTube video in English, during the commercials of your favorite TV show.
Flip through vocabulary flash cards on a mobile app while standing in that eternal line at the grocery store.
This habit will keep you engaged with English even on days when you don’t have the time for in-depth study. Before you know it, this practice will be ingrained into your mind and become a regular part of your language-learning routine.
4. TAKE A 30-DAY CHALLENGE
Commit to building a small, positive habit when learning English and do it every day for 30 days. After the month is up, stick with it and/or move on to another habit. Why is this a good idea?
Make your goal as fun or as challenging as you wish, but commit to something you’ll actually stick with. Some ideas for language-related 30-day challenges:
Read the English news, rather than your native language.
Listen to English music at the gym. (This one will even get you going to the gym more often!)
Listen to English podcasts during your commute every day.
Write a letter to a friend, family member, pen pal, or even to yourself in English.
Spend 20 minutes a day using your online English-learning program, then refresh each morning.
Remember, you can stick with anything for 30 days!
5. TAKE THE EDGE OFF
This might not be a good life habit, but it works great for practicing your conversational speaking skills. The biggest obstacle in most peoples’ way of learning a language is working up the courage to sound like an idiot. Nobody likes to revert back to a toddler’s vocabulary and grammatical prowess, but you have no choice. It doesn’t matter how much you study at home, you’ll never speak like a native unless you get in the habit of speaking and screwing up, a lot, in public.
6. DON’T THINK, JUST SAY
Here’s another habit that you probably shouldn’t bring over into your normal life, even though it is effective for learning English. Stop constructing perfectly-crafted sentences when you’re having a conversation. For some of us, the more we plan out the perfect phrasing, the more likely we are to bungle it big time when put in the spotlight. Teach your brain to wipe the slate clean with each new response.
Yes, you might not speak as well as if you had stuck to the script, but the script goes out the window anyway when you step up, so why not go with your gut? You’ll develop the much more important skill of building sentences as you go along, which is what you do in your mother tongue (and it’s why your mother told you to think before you speak—you can do that when you’re good enough that you don’t have to think about not thinking about it).
7. TURN ON THE TV
Boy, this list is just full of vices (don’t get excited; junk food and gambling won’t help your language skills!). Though it apparently won’t help your grammar, watching TV or movies in English will help build your vocabulary, comprehension, and if you repeat what you hear, your pronunciation.
Watch a variety of programs. If you’re just starting to learn English, a children’s show might be your best bet. Eventually, you’ll work your way up to sitcoms for some humor and slang, dramas for idioms and excitement, and the news for more formal speech and cultural insight. Even commercials have something to offer, so don’t flip the channel when they come on. Get in the habit of watching just one program a day. If you don’t have the time to actively watch it, turn it on anyway while you fold laundry or eat dinner. Hearing English, even as background noise, will get you comfortable listening to English.
8. CELEBRATE SMALL WINS
It’s easy to get discouraged while learning English. A minor communication breakdown can be enough to send some of us more sensitive English learners into a panic. Instead of focusing on your mistakes, celebrate every single achievement, no matter how small. This positive habit will keep you optimistic towards languages.
9. SPEAK OUT LOUD
It can be hard studying English alone, away from fellow learners. It is very important, though, to practice speaking as well as reading, writing, and listening. This skill often takes a backseat, particularly if you are learning English outside of its native country. Break that bad habit and replace it with a good speaking-related habit!
It may seem awkward, but there are plenty of opportunities to speak English on your own:
Read a book or the news out loud to yourself.
Sing along with an English song.
Speak along with an English tape.
Make use of language software with speaking activities and voice analysis technology.
Say your daily to-do list out loud.
Do affirmations in front of the mirror.
Narrate what you’re doing while you cook, clean, etc.
Remind yourself that, even though you probably look a little crazy, you’re doing your English skills a favor. Get in the habit of reading or reciting things out loud as often as possible—you’ll hear the difference over time.
10. LEARN ONE WORD EACH DAY
Many seasoned language learners will tell you to engage with English every day, even if it’s just for 10-15 minutes. One of the easiest ways to keep yourself in that routine is to learn one new word a day. I don’t just mean glance at the word and its meaning. You need to really commit to learning that word and using it as often as possible throughout the day.
Use the word in your own sample sentence and Tweet it or post it in your status on Facebook every day, to hold yourself accountable.
Search for famous quotes that use the word, and record them in a quote book.
Look up other slang uses for the word and idioms that contain the word so you can use it in other contexts.
Make up a short rhyme using the word and repeat it to yourself throughout the day.
Have fun with the word and work it into your day in any way you find helpful. Repeat this process every day to keep your mind involved with English. It’s a simple habit, but it will add up over time!