Become better at English: 5 easy and proven methods

how to learn English
In no time, you could be speaking English like the next king and queen of Britain. Source: Eric Feferberg/Pool/AFP

If you want to know how to learn English to become better at school or work, congratulations.

You’re not settling with just being okay. You want to be good in one of the most popular languages in the world, spoken by around 1.5 billion people or one in five people on this planet.

English is the official language in 58 countries and hundreds of the top universities in the world.

And where it’s not the official language, English is the second most-spoken language in the world and there are more people figuring out how to learn English.

What these stats mean is if you can learn how to speak English well, you can go almost anywhere in the world.

With enough determination, your initiative can get you as successful as the British empire, which at the peak of its dominance, was known as the “empire where the sun doesn’t set.”

The origins of the English language

The English language originated from the invasion of Britain in the fifth century by three Germanic tribes: Jutes, Saxons, and Angles.

At that time, the inhabitants of these lands did not speak English, but the various dialects of the Celtic language.

When these tribes invaded and set up their kingdoms here, the native Britons were driven north and west into lands we today know as Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Around the fifth century, the Germanic tribes and their Anglo-Saxon language combined with some Celtic and Latin words to create Old English.

Today, only around 1% of Old English can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary. They include key  words such as:

  • Nouns: day, year
  • Body parts: heart, chest, arm
  • Verbs: think, eat, kiss love, become

When the Norse invaded in the ninth century, words such like “law,” “murder,” “they,” “them” and “husbands” became part of the English language.

Then, arrived William the Conqueror from Normandy.

Their Anglo-Norman dialect of French replaced and added to Old English. In total, it contributed around 10,000 words, such as “enemy,” “parliament”, “judge,” “saint” and “perspire.”

Other factors led towards the evolution of Modern English:

  • Printing in the 16th century, allowed for mass-produced language and words.
  • The continuous acts of colonialism and imperialism helped spread the language even further to the US, India, and the rest of the Commonwealth
  • the invention of the Internet, spread English further beyond those who could afford buying English books, newspapers and magazines. Anyone with a smartphone will see English used for everything from downloading apps to making e-payments.
how to learn english

The Oxford dictionary is a great tool to have when learning English. Source: Nicholas Kamm/AFP

How to learn English

English can be a challenging language to learn.

According to the United Language Group, English consists of different grammatical rules, alphabets that may be confusing and irregularities in pronunciations that even native speakers struggle with.

Here are four ways the English language may befuddle your mind:

  • Words with the same spelling have different pronunciations.: Take, for example, the word “head” and “heat.”
  • Grammatical rules that don’t always apply: The rule is that English verbs in the past tense end with the suffix “ed”, except for the word ate rather than “eated”. Or slept rather than “sleeped.”
  • The use of idioms: It’s common for natives to say “over the moon” to express they’re happy, instead of saying “I’m happy.” It does not mean they’re on a rocket that’s passing the moon.

Why should we learn English?

Learning how to speak English can help you get a job not just in your country but all over the world. It’s the language of science, aviation, computers, diplomacy, and tourism.

It will also up your chances of meeting new people, making new friends and even finding your soulmate.

Psycholinguist Frank Smith says language is not a genetic gift. It is a social gift.

“Learning a new language is becoming a member of the club, the community of speakers of that language,” he says.

And the last reason is simply because English is the language of everything — Adele songs, Google (the most powerful search engine in the world), the world’s top universities.

how to learn english

Students take notes during an English language class. Source: Andrei Pungovschi/AFP

Studies show everyone can learn a language easily

While we’ve said that English is a challenging language to learn, it is not impossible.

It is a known fact that children pick up languages much faster, as being young makes them more easily moulded and with a stronger biological drive to explore.

“Childhood is a place where children spend their time catching up with adults’ more sophisticated abilities,” says senior lecturer in early childhood studies at the University of Chester.

This doesn’t mean adults will fail. A research paper from the University of Kansas says even as beginners, adults can quickly begin mentally processing sentence structures in a second language like a native speaker.

Second-language learners showed a native-like response for both kinds of number-agreement errors; subject-verb and noun-adjective numbers, says linguistics professor Alison Gabriele.

“Even with very limited exposure to a second language, learners can at least begin to show these brain responses related to grammatical processing just like native speakers.”

how to learn english

Reading can increase your vocabulary and teach you how to use correct words and phrases in a sentence. Source: Francois Guillot/AFP

How to learn English: 5 easy and proven method

Not only is it doable, figuring out how to learn English is fun too — if you know the right methods.

1. How to learn English by reading

Reading more English books sounds like a great way to learn. That is, until ou see a word you don’t understand. And another word, another phrase and soon, half the page doesn’t make sense to you.

Many of us are struck with a dilemma in this situation: should you check Google the translation of the unknown word or continue reading?

The answer is none of the above. Instead, read a bit before and after the unknown word. Try and get the context and find clues as to what it might be.

It’s good to ask these questions:

  1. Does it have similar word?
  2. Does part of the word make sense to you?
  3. What does the rest of the sentence say to you?
  4. Can you guess what it means based on sentences before and after it?

It’s okay if you still can’t figure it out. Google translate it, remember the meaning and come back to the same page again tomorrow and the next day. Soon, you’ll know it well!

When choosing a book, there are three different things to consider – the genre, level, and how enjoyable it is.

If you are looking at how to learn English, remember to be aware of your level of understanding so you pick the right books.

Some books which are great for learning English include:

  • Charlotte’s Web — E.B.White
  • A Wrinkle in Time- –Madeline L’Engle
  • Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Animal Farm – George Orwell
  • Fantastic Mr Fox – Roald Dahl
how to learn english

Watching movies are a good way to learn English, as you learn and explore so much more than just the language. Source: Wang Zhao/AFP

2. How to learn English through movies

Listening is more difficult than reading. While you watch, switch on subtitles, listen to the words, pronunciation, and tone of voice used.

You can always press pause and repeat after the movie lines to really absorb it.

Some people may keep a dictionary with them, pausing to check for meanings of words they don’t understand.

Again, it is important to know which level you are at, so you know to pick the right movie.

We’d suggest simpler ones at first; think Puss in Boots, Harry Potter, or any Disney original.

If you are looking for something on a higher level, consider The King, Oceans Eleven or Knives Out.

how to learn english

Practise English by having a conversation with someone. It could be in a classroom or outside while sharing a meal. Source: Brandon Bell/Getty Images/AFP

3. How to learn English by talking

Practising speaking in English with friends, family and total strangers is possibly the fastest and best way to get better at it.

Don’t be shy about getting it wrong. Chances are that the people you are talking to are in the exact same position you are in.

Start with simple conversations, like asking the other person what they do for a living. It’s highly likely you will be able to pick up words and phrases that are new to you.

If you are at university, find groups or clubs that discuss in English so you can take part actively and grow your vocabulary.

4. How to learn English by joining an online course

If you are trying to learn English because you are moving abroad or seeking a job, then it’s best to learn from professionals.

Many online sites offer courses specific to why you need to learn English. For instance, English for business or English for travel.

The best part is you’ll have teachers who will know what pace to go at and exactly what methods you will need to practice the language in.

how to learn english

When you take a language course, you have access to professionals who know how to guide you. Source: Yoav Lemmer/AFP

5. How to learn English using apps

Different apps use different methods to help you read, speak, and write English better:

  • Duolingo: Listening exercises, flashcards, and multiple choice questions
  • Memrise: Similar to Duolingo but has “Learn With Locals” videos where locals say the word and express it
  • Babbel: Has a feature that lets you speak back the words to check your pronounciation