Updated: Mar 31
When I started to think about writing, I wanted to be able to reach as many people as possible. Although most of the people around me speak Italian, I decided to write my blog in English, as it’s the language I use in my normal daily life, but also because I believe that practice is one of the most important aspects of mastering a different language. Some of you might have studied English in high school and then never used it again, or maybe this is the first time that you approach it. In any case, this is the right place to be.
My mom comes to Southampton quite often. She enjoys being with me, but also visiting a different country. When she’s here, she’s almost completely independent. She studied English in high school, but at that time it was not given enough importance. To be fair, today we live in a world where it’s virtually impossible to get a job without knowing another language, especially in Science and Technology. I understand where she comes from, but I wanted to give her the opportunity of gaining that last bit of independence. That’s why I started to teach her English. After a slow beginning – I expected her to be able to read a book straight away – I realised she needed to go back to the foundations. But how?
1. Setting up your goals
No matter how small, it’s vital that you establish an objective. Might this be to read your favourite book from your preferred English author, or to go on holiday in an English-speaking country, or even to continue to follow my blog. To be consistent, it has to be something that motivates you, something that you have desired to achieve for a while. It has to be doable – don’t overshoot. Most of the times, if you aim too high when setting your goal, you might feel you are not getting to it fast enough and you lose your drive. Small steps are the best way to correctly evaluate your progress.
Brushing up on your grammar is the quickest way to improve your written, as well as your spoken English. I would start from the very beginning. The website I use to help my mom is K5 Learning. It’s aimed at children in elementary school, but it’s an amazing resource for those that need to revise the basis. Don’t let the level of the exercises put you down. Yes, they are for kids, but for kids whose first language is English. Start from Grade 1 grammar worksheets. Whenever you feel you have made some progress, step it up and continue until you reach Grade 5. Again, do it with small steps.
For those of you who are already advanced but wish to improve, I would suggest K12 reader. It allows a more complete understanding of sentence structure, meaning of words – including the different nuances- and, in general, topics that are taught in middle and high school. This website is useful for any level, as it covers everything from Grade 1 to 12. Here you can choose the level of your worksheets.
The best approach to reading is the same as for learning grammar. For beginners, I would recommend starting to read after a couple of weeks of grammar practice. This will allow you to have a better understanding of the text, and – trust me – you will enjoy it more! When you’re not too sure about the basics of English, finishing a book might seem unachievable. That’s why you have to start from smaller texts and reading comprehensions. Again, I suggest K5 Learning. It has a wonderful collection of short stories, as well as historical and scientific readings (check it out). Similarly to grammar, start from Grade 1. Every text has a set of questions that help you asses your understanding. The complexity of the reading comprehension varies depending on the text you choose.
When you feel confident about your reading skills, try purchasing a children’s book. Anything that is recommended for kids from 7/8 to 11/12 years old. Depending on your preferences, there are so many you can pick from. For my mom I chose Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
Tricky. I admit it. Listening is maybe one of the most difficult parts of learning English. Don’t panic, you can do it.
My mom used to tell me that I was good at it because, especially during my teenager years, I always had my headphones on, listening to music or podcasts. She was right. Although at first it’s complicated to understand clearly what is being said, I would recommend checking out the BBC Radio website, and just listen to music and stay up to date with the news. If you prefer something more structured, I would try podcasts. There are plenty, about any topic that you can think off. On iPad/iPhone, there is a default app – Podcasts. Otherwise, Castbox is a nice alternative, available on Play Store. You can download the podcasts and listen to them wherever you are.
To achieve the best results, I suggest taking notes of what you’re listening to. Especially in podcasts – as long as they are not livestreamed – you can go back and forth, and re-listen to those parts that you didn’t quite catch.
This is definitely the most difficult part of your learning process. I won’t lie, there is nothing else you can do than just try and find every chance you get to talk to someone. Anyone in your family or friends knows English? Ask them to have a chat with you once or twice a week for twenty to thirty minutes. You may feel too shy to try at first, or you might not have anyone to practice with. In this case, talk about all the different topics of conversation as you would in your own language – in English of course – and record yourself. When you finish, listen to the recording and try to evaluate your speech. If you hear yourself making grammar mistakes, try to pick up what they are and go back to your grammar worksheets. Don’t worry too much about pronunciation at this point. For that, you can find tutorials on YouTube later.
I hope that you get the idea by now. As all things in life, learning English takes time and effort. My mom is doing her best and is improving by the day. I am proud of her determination and I am 100% sure that she will gain that last bit of independence. I mark her “homework” daily, but both the websites I suggested for grammar and reading have a correction sheet at the end of each exercise. I realise it’s a bit overwhelming at times, but as I said: don’t worry if don’t feel confident about your skills. It all comes with practice. Small steps at a time, and you will be able to achieve at least a basic understanding of the language. Start today.