You’ve got your visa paperwork done. You’ve secured a position in an English-speaking country that you’re excited about. You can’t wait to be immersed in a new life abroad. But…you’re a bit nervous about the language. Have you checked up on your English skills lately?
Even if your program provides a language class when you arrive, it’s always a good idea to practice ahead of time. Perhaps you need to be reminded of grammar or vocabulary. Or maybe you feel like you’re listening skills aren’t very good.
I’ve been teaching English for five years, to students of all ages. The tips below are among the first ones I always give my students. I’m essentially inviting you to my first day of class. So, welcome!
Know Your Level
It’s a good idea to learn what your current level of English is based on the four skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Notice I didn’t list grammar or pronunciation. Those things are usually wrapped up within the four main skills.
You can try this quick test to diagnose your current level. These tests are never entirely accurate. They are only an estimate, but can still be used as a place to start.
Create a Study Plan
Depending on how much you want to study before you go, having a plan will help (especially if you want to study a lot). This blog gives plenty of tips on how to set SMART goals, which are small goals that you can measure easily. You’ll want to make a plan with your SMART goals in mind.
A study plan could mean something as simple as 30 minutes every day, each day a different activity in English. I recommend short amounts of studying every day over one or two long hours per week. Short study periods, in my opinion, increase your chances of remembering what you learn because you don’t have to be focused for too long.
Use Media that Interests You
One rule I always stay with is: if you’re not having fun with the language, you’re not going to stay motivated. So, instead of thinking of studying as having to do exercises in a book (which sometimes helps, I won’t lie) think of it as spending time in English.
The more time you can actively spend in English, the more you’ll learn it more naturally. To actively spend time in English means you understand what you’re reading or listening to, and that you’re using it to speak and write.
So, watch movies and series that you like. Read books in English you may have already read in your first language that you like. Listen to music that you like. Read blogs (like this one!) that you like. I think you get the idea.
If you like it, that means you’re more likely to engage with the material. And that means you’ll learn more and more quickly.
Use Free Resources
There are many great, free resources on the internet these days. Here are some of my favorites for learning English.
- italki.com – On this website, you can look for language exchange partners. A language partner is one of my favorite ways to learn a language and start speaking it. It’s a conversation where half is in your first language and the other half is in English. When I wanted to have more confidence speaking Spanish, I went on italki and found language partners. We did 30 minutes in Spanish and 30 minutes in English. It was the number one thing that got me practicing and helped me get over my lack of confidence.You can also submit small writings onto italki to get checked by peers or even by teachers for free.
- Film-English.com – This website is primarily for English teachers, but it has lots of great short films (movies that are less than 40 minutes long). With each film, there is vocabulary, grammar, and discussion questions (click on “Lesson Instructions”). You can use the discussion questions with your language partner or in your class when you arrive in your host country.
- Duolingo – As a teacher, I don’t emphasize grammar because I think most people’s primary school killed the fun out of it. Duolingo makes a game out of it. It’s a fun way to remind yourself of all the grammar you probably already know but forgot.
- Perfect-English-Grammar.com – If you really can’t remember very much from your high school grammar class, this website explains grammar structures clearly. It has exercises, video explanations, and how to use structures together.
And more resource that’s not on the internet…
Your local library – The library in your city should have a set of English books you can rent. My small town in Spain (population 7,000) not only had English books and movies, they had a Book Club, too. They met once a month to talk about an English book in English. Here you can connect with other English-language learners and hopefully learn together.
Many people forget that learning a language should be fun. Use resources that will teach you how to use real English. This will help you speak, write, and understand it more naturally. And communicating more naturally will help you make friends in your new home, hopefully finding a lifelong connection.