4 Proven Ways to Improve Your English (From a Real Teacher)

How to Improve your English FAST – 4 Quick Study Tips

In this post, I will teach you 4 keys to help you improve your English fast. You can apply these tips to your study right away. This list comes from decades of teaching and a lifetime as a student of languages.

Learn full sentences and phrases
Not just lists and grammar rules.
Listening practice is a must
Spend more time listening to English.
Use what you learn as soon as you can
Connect your own personal experiences to new language.
Schedule time for review
Repeat! Repeat! Repeat! Learn it and review it.

Bonus #1 – Always try, mistakes are your teacher
Bonus #2 – Set a challenging goal

These keys are based on my years of experience as an English teacher and thousands of hours as a language student. Real tools and examples that you can use right away to improve your English communication skills fast.

Learn with Dave the teacher:
English teaching experience

  • Conversation schools
  • Company lessons
  • 1 on 1 private lessons
  • Public Jr and Senior high schools

and Dave the student:
Study experience

  • Public school in Canada (4 years of French)
  • College Japanese course (Canada)
  • Private language schools (Japan)
  • 1 on 1 private lessons (Japan)
  • On my own and with help from Japanese friends and people that I see every day

2 bonus ideas at the end of this post.

  • One tip for learning English that is popular but misunderstood.
  • One more tip that I learned from my experience as a student.

Understand how all these key study tools are connected and work great together.

PLUS – Stop doing things that many people think are helpful in their language study, but are NOT. This is from a teacher and a student who has made these mistakes too.

I’m an English teacher who understands what it’s like to be a language student. Someone like you who wants to know how to improve English quickly.

The key points in this post are aimed at people who study English because they want to communicate in English. If you just want to write emails in English or read English newspapers then this post will not be as helpful. But… if you want to improve your English communication skills…


Tip 1 to Improve your English – Learn Full Sentences and Phrases

Improve Your English

This is one of the most important things I discovered as a student of Japanese. Lists of words are not helpful if you don’t know how or when to use them. Complete sentences contain prepositions, adjectives, adverbs, articles, and more.

You will learn these important parts of English grammar naturally by using them. This is how we learn grammar in our native language and it’s very helpful when we learn our second (or third) language too.

Where to learn full sentences

You can pick up complete sentence examples from a few places. Here are some of the best places I have found as an English teacher and a language student.

  • Good textbooks with example conversations
    Example conversations are a great way to pick up complete sentences. Make sure you have a good textbook. I like the textbooks in the Cambridge series English in Use.
  • English interviews
    These can be found in podcasts, videos, blogs or newspapers, and magazines. Interviews are real people talking. (More on podcasts and videos in the listening section)
  • Find a good English blog
    I believe in the power of natural sentences, so my blog has lots of them Of course, there are other great English blogs out there. Find one that you like and uses example sentences to teach grammar points.

Learning full and natural sentences will help make your English quickly sound more natural.

Where NOT to learn full sentences

This is a warning I can give you as a language student

I spent a lot of time trying to learn from newspapers and textbook units that told stories but didn’t use the same kind of language that people use in real conversation. For example:

  • Textbook stories
    I learned this when I tried to use some phrases from a textbook story. It was a classic Japanese children’s story and I tried to use the same vocabulary and sentence patterns in conversation. My Japanese friends told me:

“We don’t talk like that.”

The story is fun and interesting but it doesn’t use the same kind of vocabulary that people use in regular conversation.

A warning from a language teacher.

I was using an English newspaper in Japan for one of my private lessons. The newspaper had translations for the difficult vocabulary from the story. My student could understand the story, and learn difficult words with a Japanese translation right in the text. I thought this was great.

It wasn’t great…

I looked at the vocabulary they were learning. Can you guess what I thought? Right.

“Native speakers don’t talk like that.”

Newspaper and magazine stories don’t use the same kind of language that we use in conversation. The Japanese language also uses different vocabulary for these kinds of articles. (I bet it’s the same in your language too.) 

Read a newspaper in your native language and see if it uses the same kind of vocabulary that you use in regular conversation.

I stopped using these kinds of news stories in my lessons. Now all my private lessons are custom-made for each student using natural English.

You want to read and learn full English sentences that are natural. Focus on this when you work to improve your English. Full sentences are also perfect for our second key point…

Tip 2 to Improve your English – Practice Listening

Improve Your English Listening

Listening is VERY IMPORTANT. More than that, it’s necessary. Many students don’t spend enough time listening, and some students don’t spend any time at all.

I understand it may not be easy to listen to native English speakers where you live, this guide will help.

Below are some of my best tips to improve your English listening no matter where you are in the world.

How to improve your English listening skills

  • With a native-speaking teacher

Are there English teachers where you live? Do you have access to native-speaking teachers for private or group lessons? There are many online teachers who will teach you with Skype or another live chatting service.

If you have the chance and the money for these kinds of lessons, this is a great way. (But it’s not the only way.)

  • Find a great English blog

I believe in the power of English listening. My blog has quite a few listening resources that you can use for free, but of course, there are others.

My latest listening resource
Add some more links here

You can also find English podcasts and other audio streams. Interviews and discussion podcasts are good. There are MANY English podcasts. Try to find one that has people talking together and not someone just reading the news. Here is the Google page for English Podcasts.

  • TV 

I once worked with a student who used a popular TV show from the 90s to help him use natural English. I had another student who was watching a TV drama to study, and she would ask me about any idioms or expressions that were used in the show.

This technique has the added benefit of being interesting and fun. Especially if you enjoy the show. (My students did.)

  • Recommended – I had one student who said that he learned a lot of natural English from the TV show “Friends.” This show used lots of natural English that you can use right away in conversation. (Remember point #1?) Friends has been suggested by other English study websites as a popular show for learning English.

Friends on IMDB

I have a blog post about how to learn English from TV shows.
Make this sexy…

As a Japanese student, I found a television show that was interesting and used natural vocabulary in real conversations. (According to my Japanese friends.) Watching the show is fun, but sometimes the conversations go a little bit too fast for me. To help I used another tool for my listening practice.

  • YouTube

With YouTube, I could find an older episode of the Japanese TV show that had useful conversations to practice, and I could watch it many times. (More on how to review in point #4) This can work with any YouTube video, especially one that teaches English with natural examples. My YouTube channel has lots of videos with this kind of focus. World English Blog on YouTube

There are many other great YouTube channels that teach English too. Find a channel that you like, OR find a video you like and watch it a few times.

Remember to support the creators who work hard to make useful videos for you by liking and commenting on their videos.

  • DVDs

Do you remember the students I told you about in the TV section? They both watched their TV shows on DVDs. DVDs have a few benefits.

  1. You can watch the same episode several times. (Just like YouTube videos, repetition is awesome)
  2. If you enjoy the show, learning can be a lot of fun
  3. Subtitles can be helpful at first but don’t rely on them. You want to stop using them after a short time.
  4. You don’t need an Internet connection.

My newest review strategy – I started a new habit when I’m eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I always listen to Japanese audio while I’m eating. This way I’m getting extra language practice during my day when I’m not busy making new English blog posts to share with people like you.

How NOT to improve your English listening skills

  • You really want to listen to English spoken by a native speaker. 

If you study English with a non-native speaker, make sure they are qualified. A friend of mine once overheard a non-native teacher explain the meaning of a common English idiom incorrectly. They were having a lesson in a Tokyo cafe at the table beside him. My friend even approached the student after her teacher left and corrected the meaning. She was shocked!

I have seen a few classes in Tokyo where a Japanese teacher is reading English to the students with a very heavy accent. Their pronunciation was terrible, and worse the students will naturally try to copy the sound of their teacher. Be careful of this when you choose a teacher.

You can learn English from non-native speakers, there are many smart and qualified non-native English teachers. Just make sure that your teacher has experience and spent time in a native environment.

I want to also mention that even native speakers can be bad teachers, so find a teacher who is helpful and cares about their students. I even had a few Japanese lessons with a very high-level Russian teacher. In the end, I choose a native speaker for my lessons, (I live in Tokyo so they are easy to find.) but if your teacher has a high level and is kind, you will be fine. 

  • News programs

Like newspapers, news TV programs do not use conversational language. It can be a great way to learn about world events, but it won’t improve your vocabulary for natural conversation. Remember ~ “We don’t talk like that.

I bet the same is true with TV news in your native language.

*Check out my list of Zombie and Dead Idioms here >> 22 Dead/Zombie Idioms (Examples, free PDF, Real Photos!)

Tip 3 to Improve your English – Use what you learn right away

Improve Your English Use what you learn right away

This is something very important that I discovered as a student. I had a breakthrough while taking my own Japanese lessons. 

  • You want to connect new grammar to real experiences from your own life. 
  • Real examples and memories have extra meaning for you.

I learned that connecting new grammar to real experiences from my life is great. I can remember it faster and use it much easier when I’m talking in my new language. I was learning new words and sentence patterns much faster. I could easily use what I learned because it was about me.

This was such an important discovery that I gave the technique a name “The ESL Grammar Connection Method” and I spent weeks writing an entire blog post about it. Here is a clip from that post using my own real experience:

“I went to Hakone with my girlfriend.” 
*Hakone is a resort area not far from Tokyo.

Compare my sentence to a sentence example you might find in a grammar textbook:

“Jim went to Italy with his wife.”

Both examples use the same grammar, BUT…

The textbook example is someone else’s story. I don’t know Jim or his wife and I have never been to Italy.

The second example is from a real-life experience. It is connected to a real memory. It’s my own experience so it’s easy for me to remember.

I used this technique to level up my Japanese and you can use it to improve your English quickly too.

Tip 4 to Improve your English – You must review (Repeat! Repeat! Repeat!)

Improve Your English REVIEW

Don’t move from one lesson to the next without reviewing old lessons. You learned your native language the same way, you heard it every day and you heard the same words and phrases many times. Learning your second language is no different.

Repetition is the mother of skill
-Tony Robbins

Review is an important part of your learning experience, and it supports the other 3 key points in this post.

It’s not always fun to repeat, some of us have a desire to quickly move on to “the next thing.” (I used to do it all the time myself. I’m very guilty of this as a language student.) When you move on to new ideas without reviewing your past study, it stays behind. It doesn’t come forward with you as you move ahead. It is easily forgotten.

How I changed this habit

I felt like I was moving forward when I spent lots of time trying to learn new things, but I didn’t realize that I was forgetting what I studied last week. I had to change the way I thought about review and repetition. 

If I change my thinking, and I understand that reviewing my past language study will help me remember it and use it. Now I’m happy to review. I can read, listen to and watch my study material again. I don’t think of it as boring, I think of it as meeting an old friend. 

A very helpful technique is to repeat one point of study in 4 different ways. (Remember full sentences are great)

  1. Read the English
  2. Write the English
  3. Listen to the English (if you have access to the audio)
  4. Speak (By yourself, with your teacher or friends, etc.)

What I did

I would rehearse what I wanted to say before I met my teacher or Japanese friends. I would write the sentences, read them out loud, and listen to audio (if it was available.) I had an idea in my mind that I will use this new language.

If I can see myself using these sentences in the future, I NEVER feel like the review is boring.

Try to think like this when it’s time to review your old English lessons. (And it’s always time to review your old English lessons.) Have a vision in your mind and know that review is an English student’s best friend. Developing this habit will help you improve your English faster and easier.

Improve your English Bonus #1

Always try – mistakes are your teacher

“Success is the result of good judgment.
Good judgment is the result of experience.
Experience is often the result of BAD judgment.”

-Tony Robbins

People will often tell you “don’t be afraid to make mistakes.” That’s good advice but not always easy to follow. It’s also not the “real” message here. Mistakes only happen when you try, so…

Always try

Mistakes are a natural part of trying, and one of the best learning opportunities that you have. The fear of making mistakes may be the reason that you don’t try, but making mistakes is the real reason why you should try.

When you try, there are 2 possible outcomes. 

  1. You make no mistakes, feel awesome and improve your confidence.
  2. You make a mistake (or several mistakes) and you find some real chances to improve your English.

The key is – do not let mistakes take your confidence. If you are not making mistakes it means you are not trying to use your English. Some of the greatest inventors in history found that mistakes were their best friends.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
Thomas Edison (inventor of the modern light bulb)

 Here is a real story from a language student (me!) about a lesson I received from a sushi chef.

“Sushi story”

I like sushi if it doesn’t have too much wasabi. (*Wasabi is a spicy radish used in Japan.) I used to go to a kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi restaurant near my first apartment. (sushi moves around the restaurant on a conveyor belt.) I learned to call out my order by watching the people around me, and I felt very Japanese. If I ordered some sushi from the chef I would ask for no wasabi, so I would call out-

“Wasabi nai.” (ワサビない.)

This is like saying “Wasabi no.” in English. It is not natural, but the chef could understand what I wanted. After I said “Wasabi nai.” a few more times the chef looked at me and said very slowly-

“Wasabi iranai.” (ワサビ入らない.)

This is natural Japanese and it means “I don’t need wasbi.” The chef was kind and I learned some natural Japanese. Great.

This showed me that I should never be afraid to make a mistake. Neither should you. Making mistakes is an important part of learning.

After this experience, I have never been afraid to try and use my Japanese, and you shouldn’t be afraid to try to use your English.

Remember communication is about understanding, not about having perfect grammar.

But I’m shy…

I understand. I’m not a shy person, so communicating in my second language is not so hard for me, but I have students who are VERY shy. I will tell you what I tell them.

Start slowly, with one simple sentence. Introduce yourself or ask a stranger where a store/cafe/train station is. After a few times, you will feel more comfortable, your bravery muscles will get stronger.

During my second trip to Japan in 2005, I learned a simple and natural way to ask “Where is [place]?” in Japanese. I took a walk around the neighborhood where I was staying and I got a little bit lost. I remembered how to say “Where is the train station?” in Japanese so I asked someone on the sidewalk.

They were kind and happy to help me. I was so excited! As I walked back to the station I asked 3 more people “Where is the train station?” I was having so much fun! I knew where the train station was but I wanted to practice my new language.

It’s okay to go slow at first. After some practice (repeat, repeat, repeat) you will feel better and you can start trying new sentences that are more challenging. Remember mistakes are not a bad thing and they can really help you improve.

By the way, I’m now a master of ordering sushi. 

Always try and you will improve your English quickly.

Improve your English Bonus #2

Set a challenging goal

I entered a Japanese speech contest the first year I moved to Tokyo. I gained a lot of confidence and I could introduce myself like a native speaker.

Introducing myself in natural Japanese helped me get a job teaching English at a Jr. High school.

Memorizing a speech is giving you lots of complete, natural English sentences that you can use when you talk about yourself in your own conversations. If your speech was introducing yourself like mine was, you will master important phrases that you can use at any time.

I practiced my speech many times with my friends, or even by myself. I didn’t want to read my speech to the audience, I wanted to tell them my story. From my memory. Giving a speech will also help you develop your bravery muscles.

English tests

Tests are also helpful. Tests with reading, writing, listening, and speaking (with a native speaker) are the best. Sometimes having all these parts is not possible. Tests with reading, writing, and listening are great too. 

Improve your English – Conclusion

If you learn full sentences and phrasesmake time for listening practiceuse what you learn right away, and schedule time to review your English will improve quickly.

Use the tips outlined in this blog and you can easily improve your English communication skills.

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