It is only natural that when someone studies a language, they want to see improvement. Yet, these same people often get frustrated because they have been taking lessons for months – even years – but aren’t making progress. When I ask what they are doing between classes to engage with English, my question is often met with silence and a blank stare. 
Part of the problem is that language learners often have unrealistic expectations. To see what these expectations were, I did an internet search “become fluent in English.” I was shocked by the results.
First, I found several articles that said I could be fluent in a year if I studied at least 4 hours per day and immersed myself in the language. That is realistic if you have the time to do it and the money to move to an English-speaking country for a year.
Some websites told me I could be fluent in three months. Again, that’s possible if you have the time to do nothing but study. Most of us don’t have that luxury.
The craziest one of all came from a woman on Youtube who said that if I am already at the intermediate level (B1), I would be able to speak fluent English in just five days – with her lessons, of course.
I have news for you: that isn’t going to happen.
To be able to move from one CEFR level to the next takes approximately 120 -200 hours of study, depending on how easily you learn and what you’re preparing for. For example, if you need to take one of the official CEFR exams, it will take you more time than if you just want to improve your general communication skills.
I’m not saying this to discourage you. Not at all! You can (and will) improve. But you can’t limit your learning to the classroom. You will only make real progress if you engage with English between lessons. Now, I know that you do not have the time – or the energy – for long study sessions between lessons. I understand because I am in the same boat.
After the Brexit vote in 2016, we decided that we wanted to move back to Germany. We lived here in the 1980s and loved it. To prepare, I began studying German at a language school in London. I had two 90-minute German lessons per week, and I worked full-time. It didn’t take long for me to realise that three hours in the classroom per week weren’t enough, so I found ways to immerse myself in the language every day – without ever leaving the UK. Perhaps you can use these techniques to help you improve your English the same way they helped me with my German.
I listened to German radio online
At first, I didn’t understand anything. Not one word. But I listened anyway because it’s a good way to hear the rhythm of a language. Then one day, I heard a few words I knew. Then I started to understand whole sentences. Soon, after listening to the traffic report, I was able to tell my husband that there was a 10km backup on the A661 leading into Frankfurt – that’s how much my listening improved.
When you look for English language stations online, don’t just google “English language radio.” Make it interesting and pick a specific city. Do you have calls with Australians and need help understanding an Australian accent? Then, see what radio stations are available online from Sydney. Or maybe you want to hear an American accent. Challenge yourself and listen to a station in New York, Dallas, or Atlanta. Trust me, if you can understand those accents, you will be able to understand anything!
The wonderful thing about this technique is that it can be on in the background while you are doing other things.
I watched German TV online.
I had to buy a subscription to do this. Luckily, you won’t need a subscription to find British or American programmes because there are so many of them around. Often, all you need to do is change the broadcast language on the television to English. If that doesn’t work, there are thousands of shows or clips on Youtube.
Watching TV is brilliant for listening comprehension. I was surprised how quickly mine improved after only a few weeks of watching police shows and hospital dramas in the evening. When you hear the words and see the action at the same time, it is very easy to put the two together. And just like with radio, watching TV gives you a chance to hear different accents, expand your vocabulary, and learn a few idioms.
A word about subtitles: It’s OK to keep the English subtitles on, but turn the sub-titles off in your own language. It’s too much for the brain to listen in one language and read in another.
I started listening to German pop music.
I tried this after my German teacher played a song in class to help us learn adjectives. When I got home, I downloaded the song and read along with the lyrics. From that one song, I learned 10-12 new vocabulary words. After that, I started looking for new music to add to my library. Now any time I hear a song I like, I not only download the song but the lyrics as well. Hey, if I’m going to sing along in the car, I want to know what I’m singing!
I am trying to read my first book in German. I’m not going to lie – it’s difficult and I only manage about 3 pages at a time. But I’m pushing through. For those studying English, books written for teenagers is a good place to start. There is also a lot of content online, particularly if you like to read the news. Just google “news learning English.”
I also know a few people who read comic books in English and love it. The pictures help with comprehension.
Writing things down helps you remember words and phrases, especially if you read them out loud. For people studying English, write what you want to say in English. Then, type it into the translator (Google, DeepL) in your own language and compare the two. This will allow you to see where you are making mistakes, which makes them easier to correct. Once you correct your original text, write down any sentences you might use again in a little notebook.
This brings me to my last tip…
Keep a notebook
I have a little notebook that I keep with me all the time. If I see a new word, I write it down. If I come across a new phrase or some functional language that I might be able to use later, I write it down. If I don’t have time to write it down, I at least take a picture of it and record it in my notebook later.
I am seeing a real improvement in my German with these techniques. And, if you engage with English every day, even in a small way, you will make progress as well.
Those are my top tips. What are yours? How do you engage with the language outside of the classroom? Leave a comment here and let me know.
Stay safe, and I’ll see you next week!
 A blank stare is when someone just looks at you with no expression on their face and they don’t blink their eyes.
 Unrealistic expectations are when you want something or are waiting for something and it can’t happen. I want to lose weight. But if I think I will lose 15 kilos in a month, I have unrealistic expectations. (That isn’t going to happen.)
 To be in the same boat it means that you are in the same situation.