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How do I Learn English As a Second Language?

English is a global language. Knowing it opens up new doors to job opportunities, travel destinations, and exciting cultures. However, whether it be the fear of accidentally embarrassing yourself or the frustration that comes with the hours-long study sessions, learning English can be challenging. 

Growing up in China, I had to learn English starting with my ABCs as well. Now, English feels almost as natural to me as my first language. I hope the following lessons that I learned from my English-learning experience can make this process easier for you. 

Just get started: 

Let me guess, you have been Googling for a while trying to find the best way to start your learning process. Like most things, finding the most effective directions might be one of the most challenging things in language learning. With countless resources out there, it can be intimidating to find drastically different advice telling you what is the right way to start.

Instead of being paralyzed by indecision, just start! 

When you really don’t know anything about a language, it is best to just start gaining knowledge. Learn three new phrases a day, practice how to introduce yourself in English, or watch an episode of Friends every day – just take the first step. There is really not “a best way,” so you have to start somewhere. 

How does this help?  

  • Saves time: Oftentimes because of fear of failure or laziness, people can use “I haven’t found a way to start” to put off actually studying. Forcing yourself to actually start by removing the excuse of trying to find a perfect start, you are saving time and learning more!
  • You will see progress easily: Another good thing about starting when you know zero to little things is that you will for sure start learning new things immediately. You will feel validated starting from day one because you will have already learned something. 
  • More informed planning: I know this advice might scare those of you who are big planners. Well, good news! Another great thing about starting without overthinking is that you will have more information to plan your next step. It might seem like a good idea to plan out your study before starting, but it is actually not very smart. Imagine trying to write a recipe without knowing how to cook; sounds silly, right? Once you have started actually learning English, you will naturally realize what you are missing and quickly figure out what you should learn next. You will also have a better understanding of how you learn best and be able to plan your study schedule to cater your needs. Just take the first step, and everything will become clearer. 

A great first step is to sign up for Come On Out English’s Weekly Newsletter and a free lesson. You can practice your English by getting weekly email reminders on free English tips. Our teachers are great at planning lessons to help with your specific language needs. Click on the link to start your English journey! 

Learning the culture is more important than the grammar: 

One common mistake that I believe people make when learning English is spending too much time on correcting their grammar or memorizing vocabulary. Of course, these things are super important, and you should definitely pay attention to them. However, do not get so caught up in trying to say every sentence perfectly at the expense of other learning experience. Instead, spend your time learning English in its cultural context, be intrigued by the language, and talk to people bravely. 

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I still remember when my English improved the most. My dad got me my first laptop the summer of my third grade, and I started binge watching The Simpsons. Even with subtitles, I barely understood the American cultural references. That did not stop me from being excited by everything that was being shown and said. I learned a lot that summer. From the American stereotype of “police likes doughnuts” to how to express my love for food in English (thanks, Homer!), I learned way more than I did all school year. 

How does this help? 

  • Easier to like English: The most important thing from that summer besides having learned new English skills is that I started seeing learning English not as a task but as a hobby. My friends were secretly growing their resentment for the language because their parents were making them memorize new vocabulary everyday. I was naturally picking up words while bonding with the most beloved American cartoon family. My interest in American culture was pushing me to learn more. This experience ensured that I would probably continue learning English without my parents making me. 
  • Learn English organically: One major problem even for experienced English-as-second language speakers is that we sometimes have trouble not sounding stiff. Often, the reason why this happens is because we have a harder time using cultural references and expressions when we speak English. This can be frustrating for some. For example, a lot of my international student friends tell me this cultural barrier even impedes their ability to understand American or British humor when they are trying to make friends. One way to fix this is to learn English organically in its cultural context. Watching American/British shows, talking to native speakers, and paying attention to local expressions can all help. These tips will help you to gain a sense of what “natural” English sounds like. You will sound more fluent when you talk as well!
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Are you having trouble finding native speakers to talk with? Feeling self conscious about talking to strangers? Come On Out English offers a free try-out lesson, so you can get a one-on-one learning experience from one of our supportive teachers.

Use English for things you love: 

Once you have mastered some basic skills in English, don’t shy away from using it outside of the classroom. You can only get so far by introducing yourself to your classmates everyday. One of the things I always found useful was to use English instead of your language in your routines. For example, when you sit down to watch a new Disney movie, watch it with the original soundtrack and turn on the English subtitles for easy follow. Pay attention to the English menu and learn your favorite dish’s name in English next time you visit a steakhouse. Try to start a conversation with English-speaking players when you log into League of Legends.

How does this help? 

  • You remember better: When you associate English vocabulary and phrases with happy and familiar things in life, they leave more of an impression on you than simply studying for a test. There is a reason why video game enthusiasts everywhere in the world know the phrase “fire in the hole” regardless if they speak English.  
  • You are more motivated: It goes without saying that you will probably be motivated to do the things you love. Once you get used to using English for them, you will be easily motivated to gain new English skills. For example, I was thrilled when I was finally able to read my favorite Jane Austen book in English. This accomplishment was so rewarding and tangible; it truly showed me how helpful English can be. 
  • You will be excited about the future: Think about all the things you love that will be so much better if you knew English. I remember my mom coming to visit me in Los Angeles and complaining that she wished she knew English. She is a big Harry Potter fan, and she really wanted to understand what the characters were saying during the Universal Studio ride. Keep these things in mind when you are learning English. Think about all the cool things you get to enjoy when you are staying up for your English test to stay motivated. 

Come On Out English offers fun games to practice your English skills. Instead of playing Candy Crush on your phone, try out English typing games or crossword puzzles. Make your English learning experience interesting! https://comeonoutenglish.com/elementor-6745 

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I look back fondly onto the days when I used to call ketchup “tomato jam.” It might feel like you are constantly making mistakes and embarrassing yourself, but learning English is less daunting than you think. Make it a part of your routine and use it to enhance your good experiences in life. Good luck! 

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