How to learn English

by Suzanne S. Wiley

English has a well-deserved reputation as a difficult language to learn. The modern language is a mixture of words coming from several different languages that influenced the original forms of English centuries ago, as well as phonological changes that over time have changed the pronunciation while not changing the spelling. People learning English can often become frustrated, but given the number of people who do succeed in learning it, it is possible to eventually speak it well.

Choose Your Dialect

The specific dialect of English that you learn is often chosen for you if you are taking classes, but if you are trying to learn on your own, you get to do the choosing. American, Canadian, British, Irish, Australian, New Zealand, South African, or any other English dialect is fair game, though you might find more resources for American and British English than for other types, if you do not reside in those other countries. It's unusual to find books on learning Australian English in the United States, for example, unless you do a lot of research. Whichever dialect you choose, however, stick with it. If you mix dialects, you won't learn consistent grammar, punctuation and spelling.

Choose Your Method

Many use a combination of methods to learn English, but studying books is very common. Sometimes people will just use a book, or they’ll get a combination of a book and an audio program. English pronunciation varies from the spelling in enough instances that not getting an audio program can lead to an inability to pronounce what you read. Having the audio component is crucial for both your pronunciation and comprehension, so look up English videos in your chosen dialect so you can practice and better understand the language.

Beware of Audio Only

Some programs only offer audio help. These are a helpful component because they force you to listen and comprehend. But if you use only audio, you’re not going to get assistance with spelling or reading, which is crucial in learning English. Since English does not have a one-to-one sound-letter correspondence, you must have resources that cover reading, writing, spelling, listening and so on.

Language Exchanges and Partners

Conversation is the best way to get comfortable speaking and reading English, but classes often concentrate on just the sentences in the book. Get a language exchange partner, or better yet, if you are not yet in an English-speaking country, visit or arrange to study abroad. If you are already in the United States, for example, arranging for conversational language with someone who wants to learn your native language can help you become more comfortable speaking in a casual manner.

About the Author

Suzanne S. Wiley is an editor and writer in Southern California. She has been editing since 1989 and began writing in 2009. Wiley received her master's degree from the University of Texas and her work appears on various websites.