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  • Writer's pictureCortney Dowdle

10 Ways to Improve Your English at Super Speed

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

This blog is all about the ways that international students can improve their English before studying in the USA.

Tips if you're short on time on how you can improve your English at super speed (without apps or courses or lessons):

  1. Listen to music, watch tv shows, and read in English every day

  2. Write in a notebook every day for 10 minutes

  3. Immerse yourself as much as possible in food, culture, and conversations

I've wished about a million times since I started The Savvy International that I could translate everything into multiple languages for students and parents. How cool would that be if I could just snap my fingers and make my blog available in all the languages I want? Answer - very cool.

girl on phone with laptop learning English
Absorb a second language in your everyday routine!

Since unfortunately that’s not an option (yet), I was thinking about how important language is in the study abroad process. I work with students with varying levels of English proficiency before they come abroad, and it obviously makes a huge impact on how well they adjust to life in the USA. I don't just mean in the classroom either, but socially and emotionally as well.

When I studied abroad in Costa Rica (way back in the past), I lived in a house with a few Americans + a Costa Rican guy who didn’t speak any English. My Spanish was beginner level at best, and communication was really difficult. We spent a solid month trying to understand each other using mostly nonverbal communication, and I often felt alienated when my other fluent speaking house mates would talk to Diego only in Spanish.

Eventually my Spanish started improving, and we would have chats over breakfast or in the evenings after classes. It made such a difference to be able to have a relationship with Diego that wasn’t translated through a third person. We became friends rather than two people passing each other at breakfast every day.

There were several tactics I used to help improve my language enough to communicate when I was studying abroad. I want to share some of the things I did as well as some of the things I often recommend to students when they first arrive to the USA.

For international students coming into the USA, you have likely been learning English for years, if not for your entire life. No matter what level your English, if you’re a second language speaker, there is a BIG adjustment to using English nearly 100% of the time once you arrive in the USA. You have the classroom adjustment to learning academics and the social adjustment to meeting people and learning the local vernaculars. It can be really overwhelming.

I think there are some really simple and great ways you can improve your English either while still in your home country or after you've arrived to the USA. I’m not going to reference any apps or courses here, so these are things you can do organically throughout your day.

Graphic of arrow and horn.

How to improve your English with everyday activities:

  1. Listen to music in English and look up lyrics and translations

  2. Watch popular TV shows in English to improve slang vocabulary – it’s crazy how different proper English can be from what you will hear in everyday conversation. This is the case with most languages, so watching shows that are popular and current will most definitely teach you lots of new slang words.

  3. Make an effort to have at least a five-minute conversation in English every day in the weeks, if not months, before you come to study in the USA.

  4. Label things – actually put post-it notes or stickers on things around your house to remember their names.

  5. Journal in English – even if you start by writing just a few sentences, keep it up and use a translator to put together your ideas or thoughts on paper. Journal longer and longer passages as your language improves.

  6. Vocabulary – make sure you are learning new words every day. Depending on your level, learn one, or five, or 10 new words every day

  7. As a new student, make sure you have friends who do not speak your language – it’s so important to improve you English when you arrive to study in the USA, but it’s common to want to navigate towards people who you can more easily communicate with. It’s fine to have friends from your home country, but be sure they aren’t the only ones you are talking to

  8. Put yourself in new social situations – join a study group for one of your classes. Even if you understand the material, it may help you improve your academic English to discuss the subject outside of the classroom

  9. Read novels, news articles, magazines, or academic journals to improve your grammar – understanding everything from phrasal verbs to complex tenses is so important in everyday life and in your academic writing.

  10. Keep notes in your phone or a small notebook where you write down things you hear in class or throughout your day that you don’t understand. You can look them up at the end of your day and probably learn lots of new words that you otherwise would have just been confused by.

I'm sure are a ton of ways to improve your English language skills outside of these, but these are all things that will make a big difference if you do them every day. In addition, I think there are just some general tips I would add to the list above:

  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – over and over, making mistakes means you are learning all the time.

  • Don’t worry about repeating yourself – if someone asks you to repeat what you said, it just means they are making an effort to understand you.

  • Ask questions – don’t be shy to ask your friends or teachers what they mean, usually when explained in a different way, you’ll more easily understand the meaning.

Learning a second (or third or fourth or fifth) language is a lifetime process. Of the more than one million students studying in the USA each year, there are all different levels of English skills.

Know that there is always someone who speaks English better, and there is always someone who speaks less than you.

I always tell students, not just in language but in life, try to learn something new every single day. I consider myself a lifelong student, and I try to take in new information every chance I get. That’s what makes us grow as people.

Until next time!

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