If you are trying to advance your ability to English communication skills, you need to consider that there are really four aspects that you need to work on at the same time:


  1. Reading (input)
  2. Writing (output)
  3. Listening (input)
  4. Speaking (output)


Too many learners get too focused on advancing just one of these aspects, most often reading, and they forget about the other elements. And yet, their goal is usually to speak fluently. This means you may be able to read the most advanced English literature, but you will likely still face some difficulty when it comes to voicing your thoughts in English, listening to an English speaker, or even writing English content.


It’s very important that your practice encompasses all four of the elements so that you can work on them together, rather than thinking about first reading, then writing, then listening, and then speaking. They all function in harmony to make you a fluent English communicator, so you need to practise them all together as well.


How To Do It


Here is a practical example: reading is the first element to work on so you can advance your English skills. It’s best to start with a book that has an audiobook accompaniment. Go to www.audible.com, open an account and buy an audiobook. Then go to www.amazon.com and buy the companion ebook. Amazon owns both brands and frequently you can buy a written + audiobook bundle. This means you can read the book and listen to the audiobook. The real advantage to your learning will be when you write a summary report about the book and speak about your report aloud and discuss it with a native English speaker.


This strategy would be perfectly implemented in a book club setting, but assuming that you do not have access to one, don’t worry: there are many other ways that you can implement these four elements into your practice.


Read English news, books, websites, literature, and wherever you find written content. Listening can also come in the form of news and you can watch movies and English entertainment to help you learn more about the language and advance your listening skills.


Writing is challenging, it’s ideal to have someone give you feedback and correct you. If you do not have someone fluent enough in English to do so, there are online forums you can join devoted to helping language learners advance their skills. You can also find websites where you can pair up and be a language learning buddy, my suggestion is that you go to www.italki.com where you will help someone learn your native language and they help you learn theirs.


Websites like this are also a good source for speaking English aloud with a native speaker, with many users being able to pair up for Skype calls. However, if this is not an option. You can start by speaking English aloud on your own. Try it! Record yourself, listen to it later, compare your pronunciation and structure to that of a native English speaker. It’s embarrassing at first but you’ll get over it.


Another way is to repeat native English speakers’ pronunciation and techniques. Children learn by imitating. You should too. Go to www.youtube.com and watch short 1-2 minute English videos. You will often find the transcripts on the page so can read along and copy the pronunciation.


These are just some of the methods through which you can make sure to implement all four elements of the language into your practice. The important thing is that you realize that there is absolutely no excuse to not be practising all four elements. Also, although you may be wanting to improve your ability to speak English, realise that you will achieve this faster if you integrate other inputs and outputs. If you choose not to focus on one, you’re only slowing down your progress.


Before we delve into some specific techniques, here are some final learning tips that will always apply:


Choose Diverse Materials


The number one tip you can follow with any technique you use is to choose a diverse range of learning materials. This means that if you’re going to practise your reading, do not limit yourself to reading textbooks or the local paper. Instead, read some famous novels, some short stories, websites, and lots of different kinds of content. If you are going to practise listening, watch a variety of TV shows, tune into the news, and watch all sorts of documentaries and movies to broaden your understanding. When you find a resource that you enjoy, return to it!


Remain Positive


Enthusiasm to learn is key to making progress. Listening, in particular, can prove very difficult. Unless you believe that you can hear and understand what people are saying, you are never going to make any progress. As humans we have the ability to shut out noise using our thoughts. Be optimistic and believe in your abilities. Be conscious of your listening ability, then listen. If you are having trouble with something, like listening, focus on being present in the moment that you're trying to learn.


Predict Things


Stop mid-way through a session and ask yourself, "What is next?" Asking and answering this question will help you check your understanding of what is going on. For example, if you are reading a book, at the end of each chapter, stop to ponder what may happen in the upcoming pages. This shows that you are actively reading and really beginning to understand the story.


Focus On The Big Idea


Many times, language learners get caught up in trying to catch every little detail. This is very difficult and it will leave you feeling lost and out-of-place. Rather than trying to understand all the small things in a conversation, focus on the big idea. Maybe you won’t understand every word being said to you, but you should be able to understand the general topic of the conversation to keep things moving forward.


Imagine you are listening to a presentation by a famous speaker. If he announces: "I am going to speak about three reasons supporting ..." you should be listening for phrases like "first of all", "moving on to", and "in summary" so that you can better understand which part of the lecture you're in and what big ideas (main points) the lecturer is trying to communicate. Communication is what the listener does. Until the listener (or reader) has accepted your communication and understood it, it’s up to you to make the improvements. Improve the way you understand, improve the way you write and the way you speak.


Worry About The Details Later


After you have focused on the bigger picture, you can begin looking for specific details. These will help you understand the material better. Ignore anything that does not seem relevant to the big idea. This will allow you to zoom into the details you really need to understand in order to comprehend the message.


For instance, if you are interested in knowing how old someone is, pay attention to words like "old", "years", or "born" as they will help you figure out the answer. The best way to learn how to listen for such small details is to simply decide what kind of detailed information you'd like to listen for, then find materials for you to practice with. For example, if you want to start understanding the weather better, you can begin listening to the weather report where you'll wait for the names of cities and their temperatures ("degrees").


You can also learn to focus on tones so that you can better understand the emotional picture of a topic even if you do not know all the details. In tonal languages like Chinese, the tone that is used creates a different meaning. In English and Latin languages, the tone conveys a mood. This is the emotional picture that sets a context and helps you understand better.

Listen & Repeat


The elements of this technique cover:


  • Listening
  • Speaking


Many people who are trying to advance their English share the same difficulty: they do not enjoy speaking aloud. If you struggle to speak the language, you will have difficulty communicating. The trick is to start speaking aloud as soon as possible, without any delay.


This simple method gets learners listening and speaking the English language with minimal effort, and it all begins with watching movies and TV.


How It Works


The first step is to go to YouTube or another media source and find an English show that you think you might enjoy watching. Start by selecting a segment of that show.


Watch the segment you have chosen, pick a character and repeat all of the character’s lines word for word. The purpose is to match their pronunciation, their speed, the tone, and even their accent. Even if you misunderstand a word, repeat everything.


The key to this method’s success is to just keep talking in English. You will eventually be working towards making your output sound identical to the native actors you’re copying. Keep in mind, however, this is about more than just parroting what they’re saying. You are training to speak like them, so do what they do for now.


  • Repeat the spoken language properly
  • Match the speed and delivery
  • Match the tones and inflection


These will give you a better understanding of the inflection and tone native speakers use in various situations. This learning method also allows you to get a glimpse into the culture too.


Take this method a step further, use an audio recorder. The purpose is to listen back to your delivery of the lines and compare them with the delivery of a native speaker. This is invaluable insight. You know what your voice should sound like but you don’t know what your voice sounds like. Think about it for a moment.


Recording your English will also allow you to know where your strengths and weaknesses are. Knowing this will help you improve your own practice and help you advance faster.


Of course, you may be disappointed the first time you listen back to your English practice. You’ll probably be surprised too. Many learners think they sound more native than they really do, and hearing themselves repeat the language can be discouraging. The important thing is to keep performing the exercise. Keep your first attempt on file. In a few weeks, go back and compare your progress. You will be amazed.




Maximizing This Method


One of the biggest benefits of this method is that you do not need to find a native English speaker to converse with. Here are some tips for using this method:


1. Find a show or movie that matches your current English proficiency level. Consider starting with a cartoon or another basic video. Stay away from movies that follow a historical dialect, like Shakespeare. You’re trying to speak contemporary English, so practise accordingly.


2. For this particular exercise, keep a dictionary handy so that you can look up any word you do not understand. You can then put it into context within the scene to help you learn its meaning much more effectively. Turning on subtitles is very helpful. Looking up the transcripts will be useful too. This is a technique known as “full immersion” – more about that later.


3.Start with just repeated short phrases. If you try to begin with long and complex sentences, you’re just setting yourself up to fail! If you stumble with a single word in a long sentence, you’re likely to miss the rest of it. This is why it’s great to start with cartoons. Don’t feel silly doing so. Their sentences are much smaller. It’s a more practical exercise.


4. You are likely to still miss a word occasionally, just focus on repeating what the character says, sound for sound. When you miss something, continue listening and pick it up again later.


Many language learners who first hear of this method think it’s simply too fun to actually work. In reality, it’s very powerful. When using the listen and repeat method, you’re learning a practical side of both grammar and pronunciation. While the textbook grammar you learn in the classroom is important, knowing how native speakers use these rules (and flex them.) is very important to advancing your knowledge.


Being able to learn unfamiliar terms within the right context will also give your learning a great boost. The English language has many incomplete words that learners have difficulty with. In the classroom, you do not always get the complete connotation of these terms.


When you use the listen and repeat method, you’re less likely to find yourself pausing and fumbling for the “perfect grammar.”


Finally, this method is likely to become quite a regular feature during your practice time (and after it) since you’re getting to enjoy watching that combination of audio/video input. The more you practise this technique, the better your speaking skills will become. It’s also very important to select movies that work with your English level, interests, and personal learning style.


Read Aloud


The elements of this technique cover:


  • Reading
  • Speaking


How It Works


The read-aloud method improves your reading skills while also encouraging smooth speaking. Just as it sounds, this method is approached by choosing a book, piece of literature or any written content to read and then reading it out aloud to yourself.


The purpose is to develop your reading and speaking skills at the same time. Be sure that you are not just reading the piece flatly, you should be trying to apply the right tone for the context. You should also pay attention to the speed at which you are speaking.


When you read aloud from a book, it can be helpful to find an audio version of that book too (if available) and follow along with the native speaker. This allows you to somewhat copy their speed and inflection while also aiding you with pronunciation. Again, this is part of a technique known as “full immersion” – more about that later.


Maximizing This Method


The read-aloud method can be improved by following these tips:


  1. Choose a book that matches your level of English understanding.
  2. Choose a book with an accompanying audiobook, when possible.
  3. As you progress, go to news and other publications that are unlikely to have an audio reading available.
  4. Record yourself and listen back to figure out where you could improve. You will know it when you hear it.

Write What You Hear


The elements of this technique cover:


  • Listening
  • Writing


How It Works


While many learners use the technique of speaking based on what they read or hear, very few ever perfect their method of writing down the things they are listening to. Reversing this learning helps you make sure you have a full grasp of the English language.


To follow this method, find something to listen to and get a laptop/iPad/iPhone or better still, a pen and paper. As you listen, take notes about what you are hearing. You do not have to transcribe word for word, just write down your thoughts to make sure you are fully comprehending their tone, the subject, their vocabulary, and the context.


When finished, read through your notes and make sure you have derived a full and clear meaning from the recording. This works especially well with news, where you can research the subject a bit further and make sure that your notes were actually in line with the real issue and demonstrate a good understanding of the topic.


Maximizing This Method


You can improve your results from this method by:


  1. Choosing a good video with a topic you will be able to find additional information on when you’re done (like a news piece).
  2. Choosing a piece that appears easy enough to understand (i.e., choosing a local news story over a long interview regarding foreign policy).
  3. Starting verbatim, i.e., writing exactly what you hear, and then slowly learning to summarize these thoughts effectively in note form.
  4. Reviewing your notes and making sure the notes demonstrate a solid understanding of the subject. When they do not, ask yourself what happened (like coming across a vocabulary term you did not understand) and what you can do to improve.


Read & Watch


The elements of this technique cover:


  • Reading
  • Listening


How It Works


Reading is one of the fastest ways to perfect and advance your knowledge of the English language, especially if you choose books that have been adapted into movies. When you watch a movie and read a book, you are able to understand the story and get to know the characters. You'll also enjoy every minute of study time, allowing you to focus on learning the language.


You have probably heard about children being put to sleep with their "bedtime stories". Not only is it relaxing, it is a fantastic way to speed up their natural learning curve. When we read books and hear stories, it helps us learn a language and understand a broad vocabulary.


Textbooks are beneficial for learning, but if that's all you read, your vocabulary will be awkward and dry. They have a lot of structure and they choose when and how to teach basic vocabulary. On the other hand, if you pick up any classic American or British novel, you will be constantly challenged with colorful terms. You'll learn how to speak descriptively and tell stories that people enjoy listening to.


In addition to that, textbooks are simply not that enjoyable to read. This leads to language learners losing their passion or enthusiasm for learning the English language. Novels are an entirely different story. With a novel, you will be able to keep yourself entertained with the turn of every page.


When you read novels, you are able to expose yourself to many different words and phrases. Every writer has their own style, which can help you better understand the various ways people phrase things in real life. Yet another benefit is that books are a wonderful conversation starter. Reading many books will give you the potential for more social "small talk" with native speakers.


Read a book that has a movie adaption. The reason is that a movie puts the lines, plot, and characters together on screen to help you digest it and follow along. Oftentimes, it is much easier to understand a movie (where you have facial expressions and body language) compared to a book. It puts everything in context.


When you read a book, you'll practise how to read the language. When you watch a movie, you can also practise listening. A movie will also make it easier to remember names and plot points since they are presented visually. Many of the lines from the book will also make it into the movie, and so will the names and other important vocabulary terms. This will help you with pronunciation and inflection. It will be as if you are right there in the conversations and actions.


Maximizing This Method


Watching a movie based on a book you're reading allows you to hear the lines spoken out loud which helps with pronunciation and inflection while also helping you understand the setting. There are two ways to use this combination:


  • Watch the movie first. If you choose to watch the movie first, you'll understand the book more easily. You will already be familiar with the names and personalities of the characters, and you know what to expect. This means that difficult portions of the book will be easier to understand. You can then focus on understanding the language itself in the context of the story.
  • Read the book first. If you have already read the book, the movie can help you by aiding your understanding of some difficult parts that you may not have fully understood or words you were not able to pronounce properly. The movie will help you figure these things out quickly.


Try each technique and figure out which works better for you. You will quickly adopt the one that suits you best. We are all individuals and learn in different ways.




With all of these techniques considered, the next step is to lay out your practice sessions and decide what you wish to incorporate into the time you will spend mastering the English language.


Mix up a few different techniques to help develop a balanced practice routine.


It’s likely you may find yourself moving towards the listen and repeat method for its entertainment value, but remember: you need to be working on all four elements of the language. Force yourself to add in some other practice techniques as well.


Additionally, if you have only given yourself 1-2 hours a day to meet a hefty goal, it’s suggested that you use the listen and repeat method outside of your practice time while devoting your practice time to the more structured techniques we have covered.


This is because the listen and repeat method is quite relaxed, but also time-consuming. Before you know it, you may have sat through multiple episodes or an entire movie and your entire day's practice time is gone! Make sure you're using wisely every second available.


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