The Four Most Effective Exercises for Learning Real Life English

I get it. You’re busy.

You don’t have lots and lots of time to practice your English.

You want to focus on exercises that give the best results in the shortest time.

Luckily, you don’t need to spend hours and hours each every day to master the English language.

In this article, you’re going to learn the four most effective exercises you can do to improve each aspect of English.

These exercises may sound simple. That’s because they are. And that’s why they’re so effective.

I guarantee that if you spend a maximum of just 20 minutes a day using these techniques, over time, your English will improve by leaps and bounds [huge amounts].

If you haven’t read the previous article, How to Trick Your Mind into Practicing English, check it out to learn how to trick your mind into keeping a daily English practice.

Let’s get started.

1. How to Improve Your Listening

As a language learner myself, I know that one of the most frustrating parts of learning a new language is not being able to understand when someone is speaking to you.

Many people struggle [have difficulty] with their listening comprehension, because they aren’t taking advantage of the best thing ever created for practicing your listening skills…

Podcasts, The Future of Learning.

Every day you probably spend lots of time going to and from work/school, standing in line, shopping, etc.

Imagine how much better your listening comprehension would be if you were listening to an additional 10 hours of native speakers talking every week?

It’s amazing how much my Portuguese has improved just by listening to Portuguese podcasts while I’m on the bus.

I don’t understand everything that’s being said and I’m not always focused and attentive the entire time. But I still learn a lot. You can, too.

The more you actively listen to people speaking English the better your listening comprehension will be. Duh.

The best way to maximize podcast learning is to find some podcasts you really like and listen to them over and over again until you understand everything.

I like to get about 10-20 podcasts and listen to them one after the other. Then start again from the beginning and notice how much my comprehension has improved.

Of course, the best podcasts for learning English are the Real Life English Podcasts (I may be a little biased).

Some other podcasts that are popular within our community are China 232 and The English Funcast.

NOTE: If you struggle to understand most of what’s being said, then try to find podcasts with transcripts.

2. How to Improve Your Speaking

Another frustrating part about learning a language is wanting to express yourself a certain way and not being able to find the words to say what you want.

Listening and speaking are the two most essential parts of a language. After all, spoken language was around for thousands and thousands of years before the words were actually written down.

One of the best ways to improve your speaking is to RECORD yourself speaking.

Many people don’t like the sound of their voice, but after you listen to it for awhile, maybe you’ll fall in love with your voice? (Or maybe that’s just me.)

Recording and listening to your voice is important because you can focus all of your attention on listening to yourself talk. The result is that you’ll gain much better insights on how to improve your pronunciation.

Plus, by listening to a recording of your voice, you’ll also hear yourself stumbling over words and saying useless filler words like “uh” and “um.” The more you hear yourself speaking poorly, the more awareness you’ll have of it when you talk, and the easier it will be to improve the way you speak.

Okay so, what to talk about?

What I like to do is record myself for just 5 minutes talking about whatever topics I like to talk about in English. For me that would be stuff like Real Life English, yoga, meditation, health, philosophy, etc.

If you like to travel, then just talk about your travels for 5 minutes. If you like music, talk about that for 5 minutes.

The important part of this exercise is that you practice talking about stuff you normally talk about in real life. Not some boring topic someone ELSE wants you to talk about.

If you don’t know how to say what you want to say, then pause the recording, find the answer on the internet and then continue.

If you spend just 5 minutes speaking then 5 minutes listening to yourself talk every day, you’re pronunciation, rhythm and flow, and ability to express yourself will see dramatic improvements.

For more information about improve your speaking, check out the article Speaking English Online: 5 Ways to Improve Your Fluency.

3. How to Improve Your Reading

If I was to recommend someone just one thing that would drastically change their lives, it would be to read. A LOT.

Reading, especially informational and self-improvement books (like 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, The Power of Habit, and The Power of Now), is a very good exercise for your brain.

But the important thing is to read what you like. Whether you like to read novels, comics, magazines, or info-books, it’s still a great exercise for your English.

Reading is great for three things:

  1. Improving your vocabulary. Reading is hands down [no contest, no doubt] the best way to learn new words and the appropriate context in which they’re used.
  2. Improving your intuitive understanding of grammar. Another great benefit of reading is that you subconsciously start to learn what is the proper way of constructing a sentence. The more you read the more you’ll be able to tell whether or not something is correct by the way it sounds.
  3. You become smarter in general with a lot more interesting things to talk about. 

You’ll also notice from reading that the way you say something may be incorrect (but remember that sometimes written and spoken English are different.)

Reading is a great complement to listening to native speakers. With reading you can go as slow as you want, and you can learn any new words that you didn’t already know.

Reading is like practice while listening is like a test.

4. How to Improve Your Writing

And last but not least (okay, maybe it is least), we have writing.

Writing, just by itself, is a great way to organize your thoughts.

Thinking is very irregular, always jumping from one topic to the next. But writing is very systematic.

Just like reading is a great complement to listening, so is writing a great complement to speaking.

Great speakers are often great writers.

What writing does is it allows you to form your thoughts into convincing, succinct, effective language.

The more you write about a certain topic, the easier it will be to talk about it. You won’t have to search in your mind for the correct word. You’ll remember it because you already searched for it—and found it—when you were writing.

Also, having an English teacher correct your writing for you is a great way to improve your grammar, word choice, and vocabulary.

Write about the same things you would speak about, whatever’s important to you.

When you wake up in the morning, it’s a good practice to write about what happened to you the day before or any dreams you had.

Learn more about how to Improve Your Writing In English

A Few Notes

The important part is that you don’t get lost in any single one of these.

If you read really well but have trouble expressing yourself, then focus on speaking.

Pay attention to your weaknesses and work to actively improve them.

Don’t just improve what you like to do. You’ll get much more bang for your buck [value for your time] if you practice on your weaknesses.

Action Steps

So, assuming you’re fairly well-rounded [equal strength] in each category, then start practicing your speaking, listening, reading, and writing every day.

Here’s what I recommend:

  • 10 minutes of speaking—5 minutes talking, 5 minutes listening to yourself

  • 5 minutes of reading—Just start reading, you’ll often find yourself wanting to continue.

  • 5 minutes of writing—writing about a certain topic or what happened to you yesterday. Just like reading, you’ll often find yourself wanting to keep writing. But write for at least 5 minutes.

  • Listen to as much audio as possible. Listen while you’re going to and from work/school, walking your dog, cooking, cleaning, standing in line, etc.

As you can see, you can learn A LOT by taking only 20 minutes out of your day.

5 minutes of something may not seem like a lot, but over time it all adds up.

Plus, everything that you’re doing complements each other, so they have an exponential effect.

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  • Gae Pisciotta Chilla says:

    Great article!

  • Wescley says:

    Thanks Trevor, another great article.

  • Greetings from Perú Good

  • Zulmira Andrade Rabelo says:

    I noticed how important and how easy is to improve
    each aspects in english.

  • Norma Gold Chipps says:

    Wonderful article!

  • Thank u really I need this methods

  • I will keep on the right way..nice article!

  • Toet Huyen says:

    thanks so much!

  • Toet Huyen says:

    thanks so much!

  • Really useful. Many thanks.

  • adonis says:

    really really really useful!
    amazing job Trevor!

  • D??ng Lê says:

    Thank you for your sharing, it's very useful for myself. I really enjoy when you talk about writing skill, i'm very lazy to write so now i must change. Huge ^^