Improve Your English: Learning Tips & Materials

How to learn English fast at home? Nowadays you can learn a foreign language without a teacher. All the necessary textbooks, exercises, tests, and guides can be found on the Internet. By the way, there are lots of living examples and success stories of self-taught polyglots. Want to become one of them? Explore our list of English learning materials for beginners, as well as for intermediate and advanced learners.

This article features English learning tips and useful information on grammar and vocabulary. The best way to find the best option is to try all of them!

1. 🔝 10 English Learning Tips

  1. Find a worthwhile goal. What is your reason to dedicate an hour (15 minutes or half a day) to learning English every day? If you hesitate with the answer, this is the first task to complete. If your motivation is not enough, you will give up as soon as you come across a tedious or difficult task. Think about how your life would change if you reached the necessary level. If it sounds inspiring, write down this perspective and read it every time you start procrastinating.
  2. Establish a learning system. Even the most creative activities benefit from a structural and systematic approach. Random attempts to learn something on grammar and then something on vocabulary will never culminate with success. If you use several resources, make a plan by one of them. Use the rest for reference.
  3. Actively take note of new vocabulary. And read through your notes betweenwhiles. Repetition leads to perfection. Most words are remembered after four or five times you see them. You can accelerate the effect by writing down the whole sentence where you found it for the first time. Highlight the word in the sentence. In such a case, you may not write down its translation because the context will suggest the meaning later. By the way, a growing written vocabulary list is highly motivating!
  4. Subscribe to podcasts or YouTube channels (in English). Very few people have never spent hours on end surfing through their favorite topic on YouTube. Politics, lifestyle blogging, cooking, tips and tricks for home renovation, history — to name a few. Do the same surfing on English-speaking channels. You will be surprised by the high quality of the content. English is one of the most widely spoken languages on Earth, so the competition is high, and bloggers do their best.
  5. Read and speak aloud. Have you ever talked to your cat? Many people do. Talk to it in English; the result will be the same anyway. Jokes aside, self-taught people often struggle with oral speech because they read and write but never speak. Mimic YouTube bloggers and your favorite songs. Read English texts aloud. Your tongue will get used to the new sounds very soon.
  6. Find an exciting book in English and read it. Try not to force yourself to read something you would never put your hands on in your native language. Thankfully, there are adapted versions of classical and modern literature, so you don’t have to struggle with original texts. If you have never been a fanatic reader, subscribe to English-speaking social media figures. Everyone likes to scroll through the Facebook newsfeed.
  7. Use English every time you need to write something. Commit to making all notes in English, and you will notice how much you write! Grocery lists, to-do lists, and other memos are your field for practice. It will take longer, but you will learn everyday spoken English, which is quite an asset. If you have a friend who speaks English (even badly), message them in this language.
  8. Get inspired by iconic figures. Is there a singer or an actor you like? Even if they are not American or British, they usually give interviews in English. Watch their interviews several times. Read the subtitles first, then try to recognize the words. Finally, you will be surprised to understand the entire video. Don’t forget to note the new words you liked.
  9. Check your level regularly. From time to time, test your English level. The benefit is two-fold. First, you will adjust your learning plan as everyone studies at their own pace, and no textbook can take it into account. Second, your progress is the best motivator. You can find free tests online. Oxford and Cambridge English tests are the best ones, but take the one you like.
  10. Keep a journal of your progress. Dedicate a notebook to your learning experience. This is the best place to track your English vocabulary progress. When you are on a bus or waiting for someone, take the journal and make up sentences with the words from your list. Besides, make notes of all the new grammar rules and structures. Write down sentences you could use in your daily life. The variants are endless, but it is an enjoyable way to gamify your studies.

2. 📚 ESL Learning Materials

Millions of people worldwide learn English for business, admission to a university, or intercultural communication. Demand creates its own supply. That is why there is a multitude of materials and resources for anyone. If you are learning English as a second language, you will find the following resources extremely useful.

2.1. 🔤 English Grammar: the Basics

The best advice one could receive on any undertaking is to start from the basics. Learning English by yourself is challenging. That’s why you should choose easy materials first. These links to resources will guide you through the intricate world of English grammar.

2.1.1. Articles: Choosing Between “A” and “AN.”

The correct use of indefinite articles “A” and “AN” is one of the most basic English grammar rules. Everyone who was ever learning ESL is familiar with this rule. Still, many people make errors when using indefinite articles.

“A” Is Used
  • before the words which begin with consonants:

Example:

  1. a dog
  2. a gray cat
  3. a small orange
  • before all words which begin with “u” that sounds like “you” or with “o” that sounds like “wa”:

Example:

  1. a university
  2. a one-eyed pirate
“AN” Is Used
  • before the words which begin with vowels:

Example:

  1. an apple
  2. an elephant
  3. an illustration
  • before the words that start with an unsounded “h”:

Example:

  1. an honest mistake
  2. an hour of silence

Basically, if you pay attention to how the first letter in a word sounds – like a vowel or like a consonant – there are no exceptions. If the first letter sounds like a vowel, use “an”; otherwise, use “a.”

The word “hour” starts with an “h,” which has no sound, so the first sound in the word is a vowel, so we say “an hour.” The “u” in “university” sounds like “ju” – the first sound is “j,” so we say “a university.”

2.1.2. Articles: Which to Use, When to Use, & When to Avoid

The following set of rules is another essential component of ESL grammar lessons. Below you will learn when to use articles and when to skip them altogether.

There are two types of articles in English: THE (definite) and A/AN (indefinite). Which one to use depends entirely on the word modified.

A and AN

These articles signal that the noun modified is indefinite (when you are referring to any member of some group). When the noun is general and single, use “a” or “an”; for plural general nouns, use “some” instead:

Example:

  1. a bird (singular noun which begins with a consonant)
  2. an eagle (singular noun which begins with a vowel)
  3. a unicorn (singular noun which begins with a consonant sound [j])
  4. some guys (plural noun)

Indefinite articles are also used to indicate membership in a nation, profession, or religion:

Example:

  1. Lily is an American.
  2. Mike is a dentist.
  3. Alex is an Orthodox Christian.
THE

“The” is used before singular and plural nouns that are particular or specific (when you are referring to a specific member of some group).

So we say “a cat” (any cat), but “the cat my grandmother kept” (that specific cat).

We also say “some boys” (any boys), but “the boys she was friends with in school” (those specific boys).

Note that “the” is not used with uncountable nouns when they refer to something in a general sense:

Example:

English is a national language in several countries.

But if this noun becomes more specific, use “the”:

Example:

The English he speaks is common in rural Ireland.

We also use “the” when a noun refers to something unique:

Example:

  1. the Pentagon
  2. the World War Two
THE with Geographical Names

“The” should not be used before the following geographical names:

  • continents
  • countries (except the US and the Netherlands)
  • towns, cities, and states
  • streets
  • bays and lakes except with a group of lakes (e.g., the Spronser Lakes)
  • names of mountains except with ranges of mountains (e.g., the Himalayas)
  • islands except with island chains (e.g., the Maldive Islands)

“The” should be used before:

  • names of rivers, oceans, and seas (the Nile, the Pacific)
  • geographical areas (the Middle East, the West)
  • deserts, forests, gulfs, and peninsulas
A & THE: First & Subsequent Mentions

When a noun is mentioned for the first time, “a” or “an” should be used with it. When it’s mentioned for the second time (and every time after that), the definite article should be used.

Example:

I found a book at my desk when I came home today. The book is not mine, and I don’t know who left it there. I should ask my parents if they didn’t leave the book in my room.

When to Omit Articles

The following types of nouns don’t need an article at all:

  • languages and nationalities (English, Russian, Chinese)
  • academic subjects (history, biology, math)
  • sports (football, baseball, hockey)

You can practice the usage of articles here.

2.1.3. Capitalization

You may be thinking that you know exactly when to use capital letters, but English can be tricky. When doing ESL grammar exercises, you may realize that English capitalization rules are different from those in your first language. Have a closer look at the rules below, and then challenge yourself with this capitalization quiz!

The following words and groups of words should be written with a capital letter:

  • Pronoun “I”
  • Proper nouns (names of people, places, and organizations)

Example:

  1. John Smith
  2. Pacific Ocean
  3. Statue of Liberty
  4. Greenpeace
  • Family relationships used as proper nouns

Example:

I sent a present to Uncle Ben, but not to my other uncles

  • Name of God (except when used in a general sense), religious figures, and holy books

Example:

  1. our Almighty God
  2. Jesus Christ
  3. the Bible
  • Titles when they are preceding names, but not those following names

Example:

Many people liked Mayor Thompson

  • Cardinal directions when used as sections of areas, not as compass directions

Example:

The Wilkinsons have moved to the Northeast.

  • Holidays, months, and days of the week

Example:

  1. Thanksgiving Day
  2. January
  3. Tuesday
  • Members of national/religious/political groups

Example:

  1. Americans
  2. Christians
  3. Republicans
  • Historical periods and events

Example:

  1. Cold War
  2. Stone Age
  3. World War I
  • Trademarks

Example:

  1. Apple
  2. McDonald’s
  • All words but prepositions in the titles of songs, books, articles (with the exception that preposition must be capitalized if it is the first word of the title)

Example:

  1. War and Peace
  2. The Song of Ice and Fire

2.1.4. Prepositions of Direction and Location

This section will show you how to choose the right prepositions to indicate the object’s location and direction. After getting familiar with the theory below, you can practice using ESL exercises and quizzes on this topic.

“IN” and “ON”
  • ON is used to indicate that the object is physically in contact with and supported by a surface.

Example:

She wrote a note with her lipstick on the mirror (surface).

  • IN is used to indicate that the object lies within some area’s boundaries or confines.

Example:

She saw her face in the mirror (area).

  • Usually, “on” implies that the surface is not enclosed, while “in” is used when talking about some enclosed area:

Example:

  1. The cows are grazing on the meadow (a fence does not enclose the meadow).
  2. The cows are grazing in the field (a fence encloses the field).
“AT”

This one is a universal preposition.

  • It can indicate direction:

Example:

My dad yelled at me after he got the call from my school

  • It can also indicate location:

Example:

I spent the whole evening at the Christmas fair

  • and destination:

Example:

We arrived at the railway station

“TO”

This is a basic preposition of direction. It signifies orientation towards a goal. If the goal is physical (e.g., “school”), “to” signifies the movement in its direction:

Example:

I am going to school by bicycle

If the goal is not physical, “to” is attached to a verb to express purpose:

Example:

I’m learning English to go abroad

“INTO” and “ONTO”

By adding “to” to prepositions of location, the other two prepositions of direction are formed:

IN + TO = INTO: signifies movement when someone/something becomes surrounded by something else.

Example:

He jumped from the edge of a cliff into the water.

ON + TO = onto: signifies movement toward a surface.

Example:

I slipped on a banana skin and fell onto the floor.

“In” and “on” have a directional meaning on their own. In both of the above examples, they could be used, too. While “in” and on” can have both directional and locational meanings, “into” and “onto” are strictly for the directions. So you could say:

Example:

I fell on the floor, OR I fell onto the floor.

BUT:

Now I am on the floor, NOT I fell onto the floor.

“TOWARD”

One more preposition which can be used to express movement in the direction of some destination is “toward.”

  • “To” usually suggests movement in a specific destination:

Example:

I am driving to London. (London is my destination.)

  • “Toward” suggests movement in a general direction:

Example:

I am driving toward London. (I am driving in the direction of London, but it is not my final destination.)

2.1.5. Prepositions of Time & Spatial Relationship

The errors in using time/spatial relationship prepositions are widespread among students who are learning ESL. Below you can find a short and handy material on how to correctly use prepositions with a point in time, extended time, and position in space.

A Point in Time
  • With the specific time of the day/night, noon, midnight – use AT:

Example:

  1. I will go to bed at midnight
  2. The lessons start at 8 a.m.
  • With days of the week, use ON:

Example:

Let’s go to the movie on Tuesday

  • With years, seasons, months, and parts of the day other than night/noon/midnight – use IN:

Example:

  1. I have to go to school in the morning
  2. It will rain a lot in November
  3. He was born in 1992
  4. I will be volunteering in summer
Extended Time

To express extended time, one can use the following prepositions: during, for, from… to, from… until, since, by, within.

Example:

  1. It’s recommended to drink at least six glasses of water during the day. (At any time that day).
  2. She is going to Canada for three months. (She will spend three months in Canada).
  3. This road will be closed from November to March. (It will be closed in November and open in March).
  4. This road will be closed from late autumn until early spring. (It will be closed in autumn and open in spring).
  5. The electricity has been gone since midnight. (It went off at midnight and isn’t back yet).
  6. My thesis will be finished by autumn. (I will finish it no later than autumn).
  7. I should complete my home task within a day. (In no longer than a day).
Spatial Relationship
  • Higher than a point – above, over:

Example:

  1. The bird flew over the river to the other bank.
  2. Her photo is still hanging above my desk.
  • Lower than a point – below, beneath, under, underneath:

Example:

  1. Sign the document below the date of issue.
  2. The village is beneath the ancient castle.
  3. A big part of the anthill is under the ground.
  4. The house has a solid foundation underneath.
  • Close to a point – near, next to, among, between, by:

Example:

  1. The library is near the central square.
  2. The coffee shop is right next to my office.
  3. We found Jack’s sweater among Sophie’s clothes.
  4. The house #45 is between the house #47 and the supermarket.
  5. There is a checkpoint by the road.

For practice, check the exercises on this topic: 1, 2.

2.2. 📔 Learning English Vocabulary

All textbooks are selective in terms of vocabulary. Nobody studies a language only with a dictionary as the primary source. To find the differences between the words with close meaning, and improve your vocabulary knowledge, check out the following materials. By the way, if you are teaching English, these links will come in handy, too.

2.2.1. Common Words That Sound Alike

Some words in English sound almost the same but are written differently and mean completely different things. You may notice this while learning English in conversations.

In the list below, you will find some of the most common words of this kind.

  1. Accept/Except
  • Accept = to agree/to receive (verb): I accepted their apologies.
  • Except = to exclude/to leave out (verb): Women over 60 were excepted from the survey.
  • Except = other than (preposition): Everyone got an A+ except John.
  1. Affect/Effect
  • Affect = to influence (verb): The lack of rest will affect your performance.
  • Effect = to accomplish (verb): My efforts have effected a significant change in college regulations.
  • Effect = result/consequence (noun): Will the lack of rest have an effect on your performance?
  1. Advise/Advice
  • To advise = to recommend/to suggest (verb): He advised me to drive carefully tonight.
  • Advice = recommendation (noun): He gave me the advice to drive carefully tonight.
  1. Conscious/Conscience
  • Conscious = attentive, aware (adjective): I am completely conscious of my guilt.
  • Conscience = person’s moral sense of right and wrong (noun): I wouldn’t cheat on the exam because my conscience wouldn’t let me.
  1. Idea/Ideal
  • Idea = mental impression (noun): Jack has an idea that we should all go hiking next summer.
  • Ideal = something or someone regarded as perfect (noun): Michael Jordan was his ideal in the world of sports.
  • Ideal = perfect (adjective): He was an ideal husband and father.
  1. Its/It’s
  • Its = possessive form of the pronoun “it”: My dog has some dirt on its paws.
  • It’s = it is/it has (contraction): It’s (it is) going to be sunny tomorrow; It’s (it has) been sunny for two weeks.
  1. Than/Then
  • Than is used in comparisons and statements of preference:
    • It is warmer than yesterday.
    • He would rather walk than take a bus.
  • Then is used to suggest a conclusion/to refer to some time other than now/to refer to something next in order, space, or time:
    • If you make enough money, then buying a car should be no problem.
    • We were spending lots of time together back then.
    • First I have to work, then I can have a rest.
  1. They’re/There/Their
  • They’re = they are (contraction): They’re on vacation now.
  • There = that place: The main square is over there.
  • Their = possessive pronoun: Their dog barks all night long.
  1. To/Too
  • To = preposition/a part of the infinitive form of a verb: I will go to the gym to exercise.
  • Too = also, as well/excessively: I want to go to the gym, too. I’m too tired to go to the gym today.
  1. We’re/Were/Where
  • We’re = we are: We’re lucky to be here.
  • Were = past tense form of the verb “be”: We were the youngest people in the group.
  • Where = location: Where is my shirt?
  1. Your/You’re
  • Your = possessive pronoun: Aren’t your shoes too tight?
  • You’re = you are (contraction): The shoes you’re wearing are too tight.
  1. Already/All ready
  • Already = expressing time (adverb): I’m already going home.
  • All ready = expressing complete preparedness (adjective): I’m all ready to go home.
  1. Altogether/All together
  • Altogether = completely, entirely (adverb): It was so hard to keep up with homework that I decided to quit the study altogether.
  • All together = summed up: All together, there were more than fifty people in my class.
  1. Anyone/Any one
  • Anyone = any person (pronoun): Anyone can join this party.
  • Any one = a specific item in the group (adjective): Any one of these books could keep me entertained for a whole weekend.
  1. Anyway/Any way
  • Anyway = in any case/nonetheless (adverb): It was a hard task, but I did it anyway.
  • Any way = any direction/any manner (adjective or noun): She couldn’t help me in any way.
  1. Awhile/Awhile
  • Awhile = for a short period of time (adverb): I had to go home, but my best friend showed up, so I stayed awhile.
  • A while = significant period (noun): It took him a while to learn Spanish.
  1. Maybe/May be
  • Maybe = perhaps (adverb): Maybe he could find another job.
  • May be = might be, could be (verb): It may be better for him to find another job.

2.2.2. Two-Part Verb Idioms

Sometimes, when an adverb or a preposition follows the verb in English, it changes the verb’s meaning completely, forming an idiom. When you are just learning English as a second language, those constructions can confuse you.

Here are a few examples:

  • to take after = to look like/behave like

Example:

He takes after his parents.

  • to count on = to trust, to rely on someone

Example:

I know I can count on my friends in any situation.

  • to break down = to stop functioning

Example:

My car broke down in the middle of the road.

Below, you can see some of the most common verbs with the articles which frequently follow them. What you need to know about idiomatic verbs is that some of them are separable.

That means that a noun or pronoun can be put between the two words of the phrasal verb:

Example:

I turned off the light and went to bed.

OR:

Before going to bed, I turned the light off.

Others are inseparable, which means they cannot have any word in between:

Example:

I ran across my ex-colleague in the supermarket.

NOT:

I ran him across in the supermarket.

There are also intransitive ones, which means they cannot be followed by an object:

Example:

Instead of cooking lunch at home, I prefer eating out on Sundays.

NOT:

I prefer eating out my lunch on Sundays instead of cooking.

The challenge is that there is no strict rule to tell one kind of phrasal verb from another, so it needs to be learned by practicing English through conversations and frequent use. You can additionally check this extensive list of phrasal verbs.

We hope that you find this tutorial helpful. It was created for those who want to learn (and improve) their English step by step.

Comments (5)

https://englishgrammar.pro/
https://englishgrammar.pro/

That is a very neat set of language explanations. Well done.

Custom Writing
Custom Writing

Thanks for the feedback! Much appreciated.

Mister Alonso
Mister Alonso

Great work!

Julia Reed
Julia Reed

Thank you, mister Alonso!

Julia Reed
Julia Reed

Hi, Patricia! Thanks for the feedback and sure, you can feature the article in your post. Glad you found it useful! Thanks for sharing with your audience.

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