English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.
Go to any city in the world, whether it’s Beijing, Dubai or even Harare in Zimbabwe, and you’re likely able to communicate with the locals in English.
Not only that, English is also the primary language used by many companies in Malaysia, so your employment may very well depend on how proficient you are in English. In fact, according to a survey by JobStreet, having a good command in the English language is one of the top deciding factors when hiring fresh graduates.
So, what do you do if your English isn’t that great? Is there a way to improve your English without spending thousands of ringgit on language classes?
We’ve scoured the depths of the internet to find the best resources for you. Here are thirteen ways for you to improve your English — all without spending a single sen!
1) Surround yourself with English
Put yourself in an English-speaking environment so that you can learn passively through listening. College is a great time for you to break barriers, so don’t just stick to familiar friends. Make new friends who speak mostly in English, join college clubs & societies that conduct their activities in English, and most importantly — don’t be shy and just converse in English!
2) Learn one new word each day
Don’t learn ten or twenty words a day — learn just one. This isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. Once you’ve learnt the word, keep using it throughout the day in your conversations with friends and family for the day, even if it sounds as ridiculous as, “You’re so funny, I can’t stop cachinnating.” (It means laugh loudly, by the way).
Here are some of our favourite “learn a word a day” sites:
3) Read, read and read some more!
There’s no running from it — if you want to improve your English, reading is key. Start with the newspaper, or any online site with topics that you find interesting, whether it’s the latest tech news, football, or even gardening! Try reading fictional novels too, which will expose you to a different style of writing. Sites like Project Gutenberg offer a wide range of free e-books.
4) Practise English with a friend
Doing it with a friend always makes things easier, since you will hold each other accountable if one person is slacking off. Speak to each other in English frequently and don’t be afraid to correct one another. To make things more interesting, you can even have an embarrassing punishment for the person who skips out on tasks the most often, like missing to learn a word a day!
5) Listen to English radio stations
FlyFM, Hitz.FM and RedFM are some of the most popular English radio stations in Malaysia. By tuning into these English radio stations, you can train your listening skills and learn how English sentences are constructed. Most of the deejays are entertaining to listen to as well, so you’ll be having some fun at the same time!
6) Pay attention to your surroundings
Whenever you are out and about, take note of all the billboards, posters and signboards that are around you. Advertisements are particularly great because they often use catchy phrases to attract your attention. When you’re in the supermarket, mentally identify the items on display in English. If you don’t know what something is, remember to jot it down and find out later!
7) Start your own blog
Love food? Start a food blog! Know a thing or two about gadgets? Write about that! Writing down your thoughts, ideas and opinions will not only improve your English, but also help you articulate and structure what’s on your mind. It doesn’t matter if it’s about your daily agenda or the most random of topics, keep practising your writing by blogging about your interests!
8) Learn English through song lyrics
There’s no better way to learn while having some fun! Pick your favourite tune, look up the lyrics online and sing along! Songs are a great way to learn a new language (not just English!) because they contain useful vocabulary and lots of everyday words and phrases, so you won’t be stuck learning words that no one uses anymore. Phrases that are learnt through songs tend to stick better too, because of the catchy tune that comes with it.
9) Record yourself speaking
You probably know how English words are supposed to sound like, but do you know how it sounds when they are uttered out of your mouth? Words may sound a little different because you may not be pronouncing them properly. Record yourself reading an article or a book, and go back and listen to what you said, making sure you notice your strengths and weaknesses.
10) Watch movies and TV shows
Movies and TV shows (or even YouTube videos) are a great way to improve your English, and have fun at the same time! Films and videos are usually dedicated for native speakers, so you’ll be hearing the English language just as how you would in real life — spoken quickly with lots of colloquial, everyday phrases as well as slang. Watch whatever that interests you, whether it’s a superhero blockbuster movie, Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show on YouTube or Game of Thrones!
11) Learn as many words as you can from a single category
Are you a foodie? Learn all the words related to food and cooking! If you’re into photography, then pick up words related to that field instead. You may think that this may be too specific, but you’ll be surprised how many words in the English language are related. For example, if you’ve learnt the word flambé as part of your food vocabulary, you will realise that words like flammable, inflammation and flambeau are all connected, and has something to do with flame!
12) Imitate your favourite actor
Personally, I’ve tried this before and it is really fun to do! All you have to do is pick yourself a celebrity like Robert De Niro or Arnold Schwarzenegger and try speaking like them. Listen to some dialogue and phrases, and repeat what they say. Shadowing someone’s way of speaking can help improve your intonation and pronunciation so that you emphasise the right syllables (e.g. ‘tech-NOH-logy’ not ‘tech-no-lo-gy’) and don’t swallow any consonants (e.g. ‘throw’ not ‘trow’).
13) And most importantly, keep speaking & practising!
This is where most students stumble. Due to lack of confidence, students tend to avoid speaking in English for fear of saying the wrong thing. Don’t be afraid! In order for you to be able to improve, you MUST keep practising and speaking out loud. Find every opportunity to speak in English, whether it’s giving directions to a stranger, ordering a burger from McDonald’s or conversing among your friends.
Always remember that in order to improve in anything, you need lots and lots of practice!
Done mastering English and looking to learn new skills? Check out this article: 17 Awesome Websites That You Can Learn New Skills… For Free!