Yes, you can teach yourself English!

online english speaking practice at italki

Do you doubt that you can teach yourself English? Do you think you can’t learn English without a teacher, homework, and exams? Trust me, you don’t have to go to a class or take lessons to learn English. You can teach yourself English, by yourself, at home and make great progress. The hardest thing about learning English at home is that you are responsible for organizing and planning your learning. So you need either good discipline, or high motivation to be able to stick to a regular learning schedule.

You might be thinking that you don’t know enough English to be able to teach yourself. But if you are able to read this article and understand most of it, you know enough English to be able to teach yourself effectively and make great progress.

There are many ways to teach yourself English, and there is no magic bullet or single best way to do it. But here are some things that will make learning on you own easier and more effective.

Make the most of online English learning resources
Learning English online is easy now because there is so much free material available. There is far more English learning material online than you could possibly use in one lifetime. So don’t waste time looking for the “perfect” resource. Pick something that looks good and stick with for a while. Most learners give up too soon, or just read or listen to something one time and think they have learned it. But that isn’t the case: they forget most of what they think they have learned.

Create a review schedule – and stick to it!
Reviewing is the key to effective learning. If you don’t review what you have learned, you forget almost all of it within a couple of days. But if you do a short review, you refresh your memory and the information will “stick” longer. Every time you review, the memory gets a bit stronger. In an English class, the teacher will plan reviews for you. But when you learn on your own you have to make your own review schedule.

There are many suggestions for the perfect review schedule, all of them a little bit different. Here is the one I personally use for vocabulary. I have it automatically programmed into the Anki app, where I collect all of the things I want to learn and remember.

  • 1st review – 1 hour after learning
  • 2nd review – 9 hours after previous review
  • 3rd review – 24 hours after previous
  • 4th review – 48 hours after previous
  • 5th review – 4 days after previous review
  • 6th review – 6 days after previous review

It is very important to review at least one time within a day of learning something new. After one day you will only remember about 33%. After that first review, you can review less frequently. For more information, go to Wikipedia and read about the spacing effect and spaced repetition and the forgetting curve.

Check your progress – Test yourself
The key to staying motivated with your English learning is to Continue reading…

Common English Learner Mistakes – subject verb agreement

Mistakes in subject-verb agreement are very noticeable in written English. People tend to overlook mistakes in spoken, conversational English. But in writing, subject-verb agreement errors really jump out at the reader. So it’s a good idea to check important pieces of writing for subject-verb agreement errors.

The good news is that subject-verb agreement is based on rules that you can learn. Here is a short overview of how subject-verb agreement works in the most common type of English sentences (declaritive).

Fortunately, person/number agreement only happens in present tenses. There is only one past tense exception: the verb “to be,” (was/were).

List of tenses that need subject-verb agreement

  • present simple (am/is/are and all other verbs are either base form or -s form)
  • past simple (only the verb to be was/were. Other verbs are the same for all persons)
  • present perfect (have/has +V-ed all you have to worry about is getting the has/have correct)
  • present continuous (am/is/are + V-ing. All you have to worry about is getting the am/is/are correct)
  • past continuous (was/were + V-ing. All you have to worry about is getting was/were correct)
  • present perfect continuous (has/have + been + V-ing. All you have to worry about is getting the have/has correct)

Checking subject-verb agreement in English sentences

First, find the finite verb.
Most English sentences have a subject and a finite verb. That is the verb that has to agree with the subject. Finite verbs also change (inflect) to show tense.

If a sentence has only one verb, then it is a finite verb.

My Maserati does 185.
He wants to hold your hand.
Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes.

If a finite verb clause has more than one verb, then the finite verb comes first, and gets marked for person, tense, and number.

He hasbeen having trouble with his Maserati for a week now.
She has been wanting to hold his hand for a long time.
Penny Lane was being turned into a shopping mall last time I checked.

Subject-verb number agreement

The rule here is pretty simple: singular subjects take singular verbs. Plural subjects take plural verbs.

What’s tricky is identifying the subject of the sentence, and then deciding if it is singular or plural. It’s not always obvious. We’ll look at some difficult cases later, but first let’s look at some easy examples. Continue reading…

Listening a lot for language learning

I get a lot of email from people asking me questions about how to learn English better. Instead of just sending my replies to each person individually, I will post my answers publicly here so everyone can benefit. Note that I am not spending a lot of time researching or writing these answers…it’s the advice that comes to me spontaneously and off the top of my head. This first entry is from “D”.

D’s email question (verbatim):

Hello maim [sic], I am new here. I just want to increase my confidence level and English too. I hesitate alot in asking questions to my teacher and also in my group activity.what should I do. I have tried reading newspaper alot, but it don’t work. Because the newspaper contain too many difficult words, that is too difficult for me to memorise.
Can you give me some suggestions about this?
I will be very thankful to you.

My email with advice:

Hi D,
Thanks for writing. I agree with you that newspapers aren’t great for general English listening and speaking skills. Everybody is different, but all I can do is share my own language learning experience with you and hope you find it useful.

I’ve found that doing LOTS of listening works best for me, combined with studying at least some grammar and vocabulary. When I was learning to understand spoken Dutch, I found some Dutch language podcasts (for native speakers) about topics I was interested in, and would listen to them as much as I could. I listened when I was walking my dog, cleaning my house, exercising, working in the garden, driving the car, etc. I would say I spent a couple of hours almost every day with my headphones on, listening to Dutch.

I also practiced a “listen and repeat” style audio course (I think it was Pimsleur). Honestly, the course was not compelling or interesting, but I forced myself to do it — the whole thing — several times. I really focused on getting the pronunciation as good as I could when I was repeating out loud, and I really think this did a LOT to help my understanding.

I admit, sometimes all this was pretty boring. And at first it was really difficult and frustrating. But I persisted Continue reading…