How to improve your English FAST!

In my years teaching English and studying Spanish and Portuguese, the best method I’ve seen for learning languages is the one described in the book Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner.


I’ve adapted this method specifically for the IELTS test, and now use it with all my students. The difference it makes in terms of their progress is undeniable.


It consists of the following:


Prioritize Pronunciation

Why?

Mastering English pronunciation will make everything much easier. It will help you to learn vocabulary quicker (because words that you can pronounce well are easier to remember) and it will also improve your listening skills.


Pronunciation is also one of the four assessment criteria in the speaking test and is therefore worth 25% of your speaking score. However, a candidate with good pronunciation also seems to have better fluency and overall English, so having good pronunciation will probably increase your score for the other assessment criteria too (fluency, vocabulary and grammar).


How?

1) I recommend buying the pronunciation trainer at https://fluent-forever.com/product/fluent-forever-pronunciation-trainer/


It costs $12 and will train your ear to hear sounds in English that don’t exist in your native language.


To use the trainer, you'll first need to download the flashcard application Anki (more on that later).


2) Start learning the phonetic alphabet on the following BBC webpage: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/pron/sounds/


The phonetic alphabet has a symbol for every sound produced in English. Learning how to produce the sounds in this alphabet is the key to mastering English pronunciation.


Include the pronunciation trainer and the exercises on the BBC webpage in your daily study routine.


Use Anki flashcards to learn vocabulary and grammar

Why?

Anki is a free application for your computer and smartphone that will enable you to make flashcards to learn vocabulary and grammar. It’s incredibly efficient and will help you to learn hundreds of new words every week in just 30-40 minutes a day (trust me).

It does this by helping you to store new information in your long-term memory by testing you on your flashcards at specific intervals (just before you forget them!) This is the best way to form long-term memories, say the scientists.


Another reason why Anki is so effective is that it enables you to make your own cards (unlike some other apps), which helps you to form stronger memories.


How?

1) Start by watching these videos on how to install, set up and use Anki: https://fluent-forever.com/chapter2/


Use a good grammar book to make flashcards

Why?

Does this sound familiar? You study a grammar rule, understand it, and get all the practice exercises right, but then a month later you realize that you've forgotten everything.

Well, if you make good flashcards in Anki using personal sentences and images that you've selected, that's much less likely to happen.

A good grammar book can also show you which grammar rules you need to study, and provide lots of great example sentences to help you make flashcards.


How?

I recommend that you get one of the following books:


Do the Study Guide at the back of the book (p.326 in English Grammar in Use). This will tell you which grammar topics you need to focus on first.


Study the grammar rules in each unit and make notes. Use your notes and the grammar exercises in each unit to make flashcards in Anki.

To see how, watch this video:

Spend a certain amount of time each day both making and reviewing your flashcards, for example, 20 minutes making new flashcards and 20 minutes reviewing them.


Learn specific vocabulary for the IELTS test

Why?

Using some idiomatic language (e.g. "this website is out of this world!") is essential if you want to get a 7.0 or more for vocabulary in the IELTS speaking test.

Similarly, topic specific vocabulary and less common vocabulary like collocations (words that are often used together, e.g. "highly unlikely") are essential if you want to get a 7.0 or more in the writing test.

Study the vocabulary you'll need for the test and use Anki to learn hundreds of new words and phrases a week.


How?

I recommend the following books for the speaking test:


And these for the writing test:

If you're a beginner, you need to start by learning the 1,000 most frequent words in the English language. Start with this list of 625 words, and then use this list to get to 1,000.

When it comes to learning vocabulary, Anki is your secret weapon!

Watch this video to learn how to make flashcards to remember non-abstract vocabulary (like fountain and traffic jam, for example).


And here's how to make flashcards to learn more abstract vocabulary (like forever and strange).


You should also use model answers to learn useful vocabulary and grammar for the IELTS writing tests.


Read a book without a dictionary (and listen to it at the same time)

Why?

Reading English without a dictionary is a great way to passively improve your vocabulary and grammar and have fun at the same time. You can also improve your listening and pronunciation by listening to the audiobook version of the text as you read.


How?

Find a book that's really interesting and quite easy to understand. The 'quite easy' part is really important. In order for this kind of reading to be effective, you need to be able to understand about 80% of what you read.

Now find the audiobook version of your book. Listen and read at the same time. Don't stop to find the meaning of new words, just relax, and enjoy your book.


When you’re finished, congratulate yourself and start a new one.


To find a book that's 'quite easy' visit this website. It has books (and audio) from beginner to advanced English.


You can also find lots of free audiobooks here.


Watch a series without subtitles

Why?

Linguists tell us we need “comprehensible input” in order to improve our language skills. What they mean is you need to understand most of what you're listening to (around 80%). Watching a series will help you to understand more, because you will have the visual clues to help you, and you will be familiar with the characters and the story after the first episode.

Scientists also say you need to be relaxed and interested in order to learn effectively, which is why it's really important to find a series that you love.

Keep the subtitles turned off. If you watch with subtitles you'll be improving your reading skills, not your listening comprehension.


How?

Get addicted to a series in English. Avoid comedy as it's harder to understand. Before each episode, read the summary of that episode on Wikipedia to help you understand the story (here's an example). And remember, no subtitles!


Write IELTS essays (and use your corrections to make flashcards)

Why?

The most efficient way to build your vocabulary and grammar specifically for the IELTS writing test is to write essays and get corrections. For every mistake or corrected sentence, make a flashcard in Anki to learn the correct version. This is a goldmine of useful vocabulary and grammar for your IELTS test, and because you’ll be learning corrected versions of your own sentences, they'll be especially easy to remember.


How?

Find a native English speaker or teacher who can correct your grammar and vocabulary and start writing IELTS essays.


Speak!

Why?

Trying to improve your speaking skills by watching series is like trying to get fit by watching sports. The only way to improve your speaking skills is by speaking, and the more you speak, the faster you’ll reach fluency.


How?

Send an email at work to see if anyone wants to practice speaking English during your lunch break.


Have an 'English hour' in your home every evening. Make it fun by turning it into a game. For example, every time someone says a non-English word between 7pm and 8pm they have to put a specific amount of money into a pot. At the end of the month, use this money to see a film or buy a book in English.


If you can't practice with colleagues or family, use one of the following websites to find a speaking partner:


Italki.com

Livemocha.com

Busuu.com

Mylanguageexchange.com

Language-exchanges.org


Work this into your daily study routine. Spending 30 minutes speaking English every day is much better than spending 3 hours speaking English at the weekend.


Establish a routine

If you really want to make progress with your English, you need to establish a daily routine. Be inventive! Let's imagine you have 1 hour in the day for studying English. Your daily routine could look like this:

On the metro:

Reading with audiobook on way to work (20 minutes)

Anki flashcard review on way home (20 minutes)

At lunchtime:

Speaking practice with a work colleague (30 minutes)

At home (your 1 hour of study):

Work on a unit in your vocabulary text book (40 minutes)*

Make flashcards in Anki (20 minutes)

*This could vary depending on the day and your necessities.

Relaxation:

Watch a series after dinner (30 minutes).

Review:

Before bed, quickly review what you studied in those 40 minutes of your 'hour of study' (15 minutes).


More help

All of these methods you can start using now. However, if you think you need more help in implementing this plan, or if you want detailed feedback on your IELTS essays, or help with your speaking, visit my Italki page to book a lesson.

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