What can I do to improve my English while on Covid-19 lockdown?

With many of our users on lockdown around the world, the team at TextRanch thought that you might like to have some tips on improving your English, so we asked some of our editors to share their tips on some of the best ways to take advantage of the extra time you have at home.

Tip 1: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sky …

I would certainly recommend watching some shows on Netflix or Amazon. But bear in mind the following:

  • Be patient. The first 10-20 times you watch, you may only understand 20%. But I guarantee you will gradually manage to reach about 50%, and then hopefully even more!
  • Watch, listen to, and read things that you would have watched anyway in your own language. You are only going to learn if you are motivated and having fun.
  • Use subtitles with care – do not rely on them, but at the same time, use them when you are having difficulty or are tired.

Tip 2: Online lessons

Why not try online lessons via Skype, Zoom or one of the many other technologies that offer this kind of service? The slogan of one site that offers such lessons is “Learn the English you want, where you want, when you want,” and this neatly sums up some of the key benefits of Skype. Other advantages that Skype has over a traditional private lesson are: 

  • Flexible scheduling that allows you to start a few minutes early or late (for example if a meeting overruns). Most Skype teachers work from home and schedule breaks between lessons to allow for such flexibility.
  • The simulated physical proximity provided by the screens means, for example, that the teacher can really show you the mouth movements needed to make certain sounds.
  • Lessons can be recorded to review again later as many times as you need to truly learn the concepts covered.

Online lessons work well for children, and at least get them off their phones! A child’s confidence can be built up quickly, and if your kid forgets to do their homework, there is no way for them to hide their face!

Tip 3: TV series vs movies

While on lockdown, you’re inevitably going to spend some time watching videos. I would recommend checking out some TV series (e.g. Narcos, Breaking Bad, Inheritance, How I Met Your Mother, Elite, Riverdale, etc). The main advantages series have over watching a movie are that they:

  • Can often be addictive, so you’re really motivated to watch the next episode.
  • Are shorter than movies (generally from 20 to 50 minutes maximum), which makes finding time to watch them much easier.
  • Show characters who keep reappearing, so that you get tuned in to their voices; these characters also tend to have particular phrases that they say repeatedly.
  • Go on for years, so you have a constant source of entertainment and learning opportunities.

Also, try some of the older ones like Friends, 24, or Downton Abbey, as the English is often easier to understand the further you go back in time.

A movie can be harder to understand because the voices will be new to you, and if you haven’t watched it before, then the plot will be new, as well. Also, a movie tends to last at least 90 minutes, which requires more intense concentration.

Nevertheless, watching movies is fun. If you choose films you have already seen in your own language, you will not have to worry about paying attention to the plot. Check out a clip on YouTube to hear what the actors sound like, and try to find extracts from the film to judge whether you are likely to enjoy it and understand it. Finally, consider watching it over a period of several days.

The easiest movies to understand tend to be i) older (the enunciation tends to be clearer in movies from the 1940s and 50s), ii) science fiction—full of technical words that you may be familiar with, and there is usually very little humor or sarcasm (which may be difficult to understand).

Documentaries are also a very good option, as the narrators tend to speak clearly and from a script, so even though you can’t see their lips moving, you will still be able to understand.

Fun fact: In 1930, a British MP called for a quota on the number of American films allowed into Britain: ‘The words and accent are perfectly disgusting, and there can be no doubt that such films are an evil influence on our language’. In a debate at the House of Lords in 1978 a member said: ‘If there is a more hideous language on the face of the earth than the American form of English, I should like to know what it is’.

Tip 4: Listen to international news broadcasters

At the moment, listening to the international news on TV or on the radio is good practice because all they are talking about is the virus, and you will thus be able to follow what they are saying much more easily. Watching news that is all local to only one country is much more difficult, so try to find a channel you like that includes some good international coverage.

Tip 5: Variety, variety, variety

I think that with any task you do, you need variety. Something that you may never have thought of doing is an online dictation. There are several websites where you can listen to pre-recorded dictations in English at various levels. As in a traditional dictation, you write down every word you hear. At the end of the exercise, you can compare your notes with the transcripts provided by the site. To find these resources, Google “ELT * dictation exercise”

I also think that it’s not a bad idea to take a new approach to the way you typically learn English. Don’t necessarily focus on your usual reading and listening material—venture into new types of music, and consider reading non-fiction in English, which is often a lot easier than reading novels. If you do opt for a novel, consider ones with plenty of dialogue, and if possible, set in your own country (so the vocabulary is likely to be more familiar). If you don’t have a Kindle, and thus can’t have instant translations of words you don’t know, or if you prefer reading a hard copy, then have copies of the same book in both your language and in English. If you get stuck with the English version, you can treat yourself to a chapter in your own language!

But whatever you do, ensure there is an element of fun in every task you set for yourself. 

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