1. Be encouraged – your English is probably better than you think it is!
Unfortunately, a lot of English learners have a very negative view of their English skills. Do you ever find yourself saying or thinking things like…
- “My English is probably full of mistakes.”
- “I’m afraid to speak, because other people might not understand me.”
- “I’ve been studying for years, but my English is still bad.”
I can tell you honestly – your English is probably better than you imagine. As the teacher here at Espresso English, I’ve interacted with thousands of students. I correct hundreds of homework assignments from students in my courses. So I can say with confidence that most of you are doing great in English!
Yes, of course there is room to improve. But you already have good English skills, and I can understand your speaking and writing. That’s a really big accomplishment.
So if you tend to have a low opinion of your English, try to eliminate those negative thoughts by focusing on what you CAN do, not what you can’t do yet.
2. Never compare your English skills to others’
One reason that many English learners have a low opinion of their skills is that they’re comparing themselves to native English speakers or other learners who have reached fluency. If you observe that your English is not as good as other peoples’, you start to bad about yourself – imperfect, inferior, etc.
Don’t compare – it’s not fair!
Native English-speaking adults have had 20+ years of being immersed in English practically 24 hours a day. We’ve watched thousands of hours of TV in English, we’ve had years and years of instruction in school, read tons of books in English, and participated in millions of conversations in English.
That’s a huge advantage. If you had all that experience, you’d be a native speaker, too. So comparing yourself, as an English learner, to a native English speaker doesn’t make sense. Learning a language later in life is a different experience and can’t be compared to being raised as a native speaker since birth.
You should also avoid comparing yourself to other English learners. The fact is that everyone is different – some people naturally learn faster, some people naturally learn more slowly. Some people have invested more time in studying, other people have studied “on and off.” Some learners have had excellent teachers, other learners have had trouble finding a good teacher or method.
Don’t compare your English skills to anyone else’s. Just focus on your individual progress.
3. Don’t take mistakes so seriously/personally
MISTAKES – they have the power to make you afraid to use your English… they can also make you feel humiliated when someone corrects you… they represent your failure to know the rules of English… right?
Mistakes only have all that power if you allow them to have such power.
The goal of learning English is to communicate, and the fact is that many mistakes actually don’t damage communication. For example:
- If you say “It depends of the weather” instead of the correct version “It depends on the weather,” everyone will still understand you (and many won’t even notice the small error).
- If you say “I live here for 3 years” instead of the correct version “I’ve lived here for 3 years” or “I’ve been living here for three years,” people will still know what you’re saying.
- If you say “I have a swimming pull in my backyard” instead of “swimming pool” (a pronunciation error), everyone will understand what you meant because of the context of the sentence.
Yes, of course we want to correct these so you can speak more perfectly. But can you see that these mistakes aren’t so serious? That’s why you shouldn’t “beat yourself up” (think strong negative thoughts about yourself).
Sometimes you make a bigger error that does cause a communication problem. This is NORMAL – it’s part of learning a language! Just try to clarify the issue using other words. Think of a different, simpler way to say what you want to say.
For example: my student was talking about a construction project, and he wanted to say that the owner of the house was asking for a budget / a quote (an estimate of how much the construction would cost). However, he didn’t know the English words “budget,” “quote,” or “estimate.” Instead, he said “the owner of the house wants to know how much the work will cost” – it’s a simpler way to communicate the same mesasge.
Just remember that making mistakes does NOT mean you are stupid. Choose to view mistakes as an opportunity to learn, not a disaster!
4. Visualize the end goal, and know that every bit of time you invest is bringing you closer!
Do you know WHY you want to learn English?
Is it so you can work in a multinational company? Live in an English-speaking country? Travel and make friends more easily? Pass an exam? Be able to read books and watch movies in English? (Watching movies is the top favorite activity among English learners!)
Whatever your reason is, try this simple exercise: when you sit down to study English, spend a couple minutes visualizing (imagining) reaching your goal. Imagine yourself speaking English easily without translating in your head. Imagine yourself confidently giving a business presentation in English. Imagine reading a book in English and understanding all the vocabulary – that would feel great!
Then, tell yourself that EVERY study session (including this one) is bringing you closer to that situation. This makes your studying more enjoyable and more meaningful, because you know that what you are doing is useful and that you are making real progress.
5. Keep a record of your progress (success journal)
Speaking of progress, it’s very motivating to keep a record of what you’ve accomplished. Get a notebook, and after every study session write down the date and a summary of “what I learned today.” This results in three things:
- the act of writing it down helps reinforce it in your memory;
- seeing the notebook fill up with knowledge encourages you that you are learning a lot and making progress;
- having the notebook makes it easy to go back and review things you’ve studied previously.
6. When you feel lazy, just take a baby step
A “baby step” is a very small action.
Learning English is a BIG project that can take many years, and sometimes you just feel discouraged and lazy – you simply don’t want to study that day. Instead of thinking, “oh man, I have to do an hour of English study, and I really don’t feel like it / don’t have time” – tell yourself you’ll just do one TINY thing.
- I’ll read in English for just 5 minutes
- I’ll watch one Espresso English video on YouTube
- I’ll listen to just one song in English and look up any words I don’t know
- I’ll learn only 5 vocabulary words or idioms
When you take a “baby step” to study English, one of two things will happen:
- after a few minutes, you’ll finish and feel like you accomplished something, even though you don’t have any more time or motivation; or
- after a few minutes, you’ll “get into it” and feel motivated to continue and study a little longer.
The hardest part is often starting! However, if you take a “baby step,” you’ll definitely learn something – and you might regain your motivation in the process.
7. Plan for breaks, but also plan to come back
Some English learners are too hard on themselves – in other words, they have VERY high expectations for themselves and they never take a break. They feel like they must study every day, and if they miss a day, then they feel like a failure.
Of course I recommend studying English as often as possible – it’s especially good if you can make it part of your daily routine and habits. But we all need breaks!
If you have a very busy day, it’s OK to skip your studying – just make sure to come back to it the next day. If you’re going on vacation for a week, it’s OK not to look at English. Relax and enjoy your vacation, then resume your studies afterwards.
The key is always to come back to English – don’t let yourself get so busy that you forget to study for weeks and months. If you have a busy season at work or school, try studying only once a week instead of trying and failing every day. Find a rhythm that works for your lifestyle, and be flexible enough to adjust it when necessary.
8. Make learning enjoyable
You don’t have to study the exact same way every time! Try to have some variation, to keep things interesting.
For example, maybe one day you do a lot of grammar exercises. The next day, do something different – listen to a podcast instead and work on your comprehension. After that, maybe learn new vocabulary from the news. Then, maybe you want to relax a bit more so you watch a TV show or movie with subtitles.
All of these things will be beneficial to your English, and having variation prevents you from getting bored.
Here’s another tip for making English more fun – find material in areas of your interest. Do you have a hobby? Do you like a certain sport? Do you enjoy politics or history? Look for English articles, books, and podcasts on that topic. When you enjoy and care about the subject material, it’s easier to learn the language.
9. Find a partner or join a community
Scientists have discovered that one of the most effective motivators is “peer pressure” – that’s encouragement or expectation from people who are similar to you.
For example, if you want to get into the habit of exercising, it’s hard to get off the couch and decide to exercise alone. But if you have a friend who you agreed to meet at the gym at 4:00, you’re much more likely to go.
How can you apply this to your English learning?
Join English-learning Facebook groups and interact with the people in there. You can also find an online speaking partner through conversation exchange websites like these:
- Top 10 websites for English language exchange
Having a friend who is also learning a language makes it easy for you to help and encourage each other!
10. Challenge yourself, then reward yourself when you reach goals
Sometimes when you’re studying English by yourself, it can be discouraging because there’s nobody to say “Nice work!” or celebrate your successes. But if you give yourself challenges and rewards, it can give you the motivation to keep going and not quit.
Of course your main goal is to be fluent in English, but you can set smaller goals in the process. For example:
- Read an entire book in English
- Learn 10 new words every day for one month
- Be able to talk for 5 minutes straight in English (try talking for 1 minute, then 2 minutes, and work your way up to 5)
- Start a blog in English and write one post every week for a year
Choose goals that you think will be difficult, but not impossible. For example, if you’re a beginner, don’t choose to “understand an entire movie on the first try” – that will be too hard for your current level. You want the goal to help you improve, but still be something you are able to reach.
When you reach your goals, celebrate! Tell a friend, family member, teacher, or English-learning partner. Do something nice for yourself – eat a special meal, buy a small gift for yourself, etc. You will feel proud of yourself because you’ve accomplished your goal – and ready to take on the next challenge on your journey to fluency in English.
I hope these tips have been helpful. Don’t just read about them – put them into practice!
Sometimes you can also lose your motivation because you don’t know what to study, where to start, what to learn next, etc.
My courses and e-books can help you with that. They have structured lessons to teach you things in a logical order, and some include exercises where you can send me your speaking/writing and get my feedback, which is also very motivating.