I wrote this for high school and university students in Vietnam. Anyone can use this to improve their English skills. I have been teaching English in Vietnam for 10 years. I would like to share what has worked well for my students. I hope my advice is helpful.
- LEARNING ENGLISH EFFECTIVELY
- STUDY TIPS
- READING AND WRITING
- PLAYING VIDEO GAMES
- TALKING WITH AI
LEARNING ENGLISH EFFECTIVELY
This is really important. Make English part of your life, not just a school subject. Do what you enjoy, but do it in English. Make learning English fun. Do you like playing video games? Talk with other players in the game. Do you like reading comics? Read them in English. Learn a new skill (cooking foreign food or playing the guitar) in English. Try your hobbies and interests in English.
Try something new and find what works best for you. What’s effective for you might be different than what’s effective for others.
Try different study techniques. When you start a new technique, define what success will be. How will you know this new technique is working for you? Are you better at remembering words by writing them instead of reading them? Maybe both reading and writing? Research different studying techniques to find what’s effective for you. Ask your friends, family and teachers for help.
Learn English as a tool to complete a goal. For example, your goal is to study abroad. The tool you’re using to complete your goal is English. When you look at English as a tool, it’s easier to accomplish your goal.
Make a study schedule and don’t forget it. Your schedule should have study-at-home activities. Each activity should have what you’re doing and which skill it’s improving. For example, every Wednesday night at 9 I will listen to 3 Lingoclip songs to get better at listening. Be persistent and stick to your schedule. Change the activities if they’re not working. Make them fun and interesting.
Lingoclip is a listening game with music, shows and movies.
If you’re studying for a test, don’t study for just one night. Don’t stay up until 3 AM studying. You should divide your studying over several days before the test. Get 8 hours of sleep the night before the test. Eat a snack just before the test. If you are hungry or tired, it’s hard to concentrate.
Don’t be afraid to talk to foreigners. You should make the first move and speak first. Don’t worry! You will still be alive afterwards! Ask simple open-ended questions like, “What do you think about Vietnam?” Open-ended questions are better because the conversation will be longer. If you ask a closed question like, “Do you like Vietnam?”, they can be answered with a quick yes or no. The conversation will end quickly and you don’t want that.
Go to English clubs often. You can find a list of them in Vinh here. Make a goal before you go to the meeting. For example, I will speak with 3 new people and ask each person 5 questions. When you talk with someone new, don’t interview them. It will make them feel uncomfortable. You should try and have a natural conversation.
Do things that scare you. Get outside your comfort zone. Talk in front of all of your classmates and teacher in the classroom. The more you do these scary things, the easier they will be to do in the future.
Speak in English often. Take any chance you have to speak English. Speak in English with your classmates, talk to a foreigner in an elevator or talk with your friends and family. Here’s a fun idea. You can play a game at a cafe with your friends. Everyone must speak in English. The first person to speak in Vietnamese has to buy someone a drink.
Both of these TED Talks are wonderful. I love what Sid says about having shower conversations (it’s technique 4).
Marianna has been teaching Southeast Asians how to speak better English for 20 years. She gives a powerful example in her talk.
Go to English clubs often. Make it a habit and go every week. Here’s a list of English clubs in Vinh.
Use language exchange apps. Talk with people of the same sex as you. People who are close to your age with shared hobbies. You shouldn’t share your real address to strangers online.
Talk with your teachers, friends and family in English often. Don’t forget to ask open-ended questions and have natural conversations (see what I wrote in the SELF-CONFIDENCE section).
Use YouGlish. You can search for any word and listen to a native speaker say it. Half of pronouncing a word correctly is listening to it and getting it correct in your head before speaking it.
Search Google for “how to say (new word)”. Click the practice button. Google will listen and let you know if you said it correctly. To do this, your Google language must be English after you sign in. You can also use ELSA Speak to check your pronunciation.
Make a list of new words every 2 weeks to practice pronouncing. You should practice with this list every night before bed for 10-20 minutes. Keep the list on a piece of paper on the wall next to your bed. YouGlish, Google or ELSA Speak are your superpowers.
Getting better at pronunciation is like exercising. You won’t see results immediately. If you practice regularly, you will get better.
Keep a notebook of new words. Write the English and Vietnamese translations. Make example sentences with them. Put them on the wall next to your bed so you see them often. Don’t forget about the new words by letting them die closed in your notebook. You should see them often to help you remember them. Use your new words in conversation and make them part of your life.
This is a little hardcore but it works. You can find an English conversation online (with a transcript). Start the audio and write everything you hear. Then check the transcript to see if what you heard and what you wrote matches. Use ESL Lab or ELLLO for this.
Use apps and websites. It’s best if you find some that aren’t boring. Lingoclip is a fun listening game.
Watching stuff can help you improve. You should watch what you enjoy and find interesting. Find an American TV show like Stranger Things or whatever you like. YouTube videos, movies, shows, anime, etc. Watch it with subtitles and watch it again without.
This is a great YouTube channel with lots of fantastic advice. Not just about listening but about everything. Learn English with TV Series
READING AND WRITING
Find something you enjoy reading. A story you like. If it’s boring, you’re not going to enjoy it. It will be tedious. Read something that matches your reading level (or a little below it).
Use this website to determine your reading level.
Online comics are great. The pictures help you understand what’s happening in the story. Try WebToons.
Keep a simple journal and write in it every night. Start simple and short and then try writing short stories about your life experiences. Ask your friends and teachers for their feedback.
Use these websites to get better at writing.
PLAYING VIDEO GAMES
Try casual and easy games even if you’re not a gamer. It makes learning English fun. Verb Smash and other games from Wobble Monkey are a good start.
Playing multiplayer games where you speak with other players in English is great. Avoid toxic players though. Use the in-game text chat or try voice chatting. You can find a community for your game with Discord.
This is a great post from Real English for Gamers. It can help you if you’re new to gaming. Learning English Outside of Class: Don‘t Forget Video Games
You can play Minecraft to get better at English. Get Adventures in English from Cambridge English.
An interesting research paper about teaching English through gaming (it can also help students). It’s from the Kanda University of International Studies in Japan.
Video Games Taught Me English is an excellent video from OlbenGC. It has English subtitles.
Don’t forget to change the language of your game to English.
TALKING WITH AI
Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be helpful. You should be careful though. Sometimes it can be incorrect or biased. It’s a great way to practice your English conversation skills. You should be aware that AI can sound robotic sometimes. The answers you get may not be very natural or realistic.
Luke’s video has a useful prompt where you can turn AI into an English teacher. The AI will offer grammar corrections and explanations. How to Use ChatGPT as a Free AI English Teacher
You can use Luke’s prompt with VoiceGPT.
One of my students just told me about Replika.
ELSA Speak has an AI English tutor.
Meta has an AI Chat Bot. I think it only works in the US at the moment. Try using a VPN.
AI Dungeon creates a unique story just for you.
Here are some important take-aways.
- Improve your self-confidence skill at the same time as your English skills
- Talk in English as much as you can (find creative ways to speak often)
- Take initiative (seek out foreigners to talk to and don’t be afraid to make the first move)
- Be proactive (complete your self-study schedule consistently)
- Be persistent (don’t give up)
You can do this. You can improve. Believe in yourself.
I got the idea to write this when I was asked to speak at the Ha Huy Tap High School English club in Vinh. The topic of the meeting was how to learn English effectively. Thank you, Emi. You inspired me and lit the fire.