I have to admit (even though I’m an italki teacher myself) that there’s something even better than an EFL teacher online or in a classroom: the English-speaking world.

This is the English you hear and read outside the classroom -- on the streets, in newspapers, on the radio, TV, or online. If you live in an official English-speaking country (the U.S. or the UK, for example), you won’t have any trouble finding ways to practice your English. Even if you live in a non English-speaking country, there are still many opportunities to improve your EFL skills.

Whenever I hear a really good beginning or intermediate student who sounds like a native English speaker, I always ask how he or she did it. This is what my really good students tell me, and I’m passing their advice on to you:


Pay attention to signs in English

In your airports, there are many signs in English written under your own language. These are words like “exit”, “baggage claim”, “upper” and “lower level”, “exchange money”, etc. You can also spot signs as you drive: “slow down”, “stop”, “no entrance”, “keep right”. These simple nouns and verbs are used in everyday life and are among the most important English words because they tell you how to go somewhere.


Eavesdrop on conversations

Eavesdrop on (listen to) conversations between people speaking English, but don’t get caught doing it! Listen to people ordering in a restaurant; while they speak on their mobiles, when they talk to their children. Listen to a fight (quarrel) in English. Fights are wonderful to listen to in English, because they are very spontaneous and the people use a lot of strong language.


Watch the news for just 10 minutes

Watch the news (on BBC or CNN) in English for just 10 minutes.  You may not understand everything in the beginning, but you’ll learn fast, because the news is very repetitive. You’ll hear the same words (usually negative) over and over: war, bad economy, murder. Look at the graphics (charts, maps, photographs, video interviews), and these will help you understand what’s going on. The news also makes for (gives you) good subjects for small talk that we often encourage in EFL lessons.


Read the newspaper in English

Of course, the articles are written for native speakers, and they may be too difficult at the beginning. But, just read the headlines and the first paragraph. Chances are (probably) you will understand what the article is about without knowing every word. But, there are also other parts of the newspaper that are good for learning English. These are the advertisements, the classified ads (where they sell cars, rent apartments and announce job vacancies, etc.), and the Letters to the Editor where the readers express (tell) their opinions about articles in the paper or things going on in the country that they usually don’t like.


Watch your Favorite TV shows in English

There’s an old American comedy series called Friends. I have always hated that show, but there are so many students who swear (promise) that this show taught them English.


Go to American or British movies

Don’t worry if you hardly understand anything at the beginning. If you want, use subtitles (translation of the conversation in the movie). For whatever reason (the sound is too low, the actors speak too fast or whisper, or perhaps I’m going deaf), I often only understand 85 percent of the dialogue (actors’ words), and I’m a native speaker.


So do all or most of these things, and I guarantee (promise) that you will learn English faster than by just taking lessons. And, if you do it, whether or not I’m your teacher, I will be very proud of you.


Ilene Springer, an English teacher from the U.S., has started group lessons for advanced students on italki.