How to Learn British English with me

Introduction

So you want to learn British English? Learning any foreign language is no easy task, it takes a long time and a lot of exposure in order to achieve a high level. Fortunately for you, this can also be a pleasant, enriching and enjoyable process.

Learning English, you have the massive advantage of having masses of English content to enjoy. There are thousands of films, TV shows, books, podcasts and so much more. So much, that starting out can seem very intimidating, but it doesn't have to be that way.

In this post, I want to outline some of the most important methods that I used to teach myself Cantonese, methods that you can use to learn how to speak English fluently and with confidence.

If you know how to break down the learning process into manageable steps, the whole process is a lot less intimidating. It will allow you to enjoy learning with real English content designed for native speakers at a very early stage. It will help you break away from long-winded grammar explanations and artificial books designed for learners.

Table of Contents

What are the most important aspects when learning English?

 

In this section, I want to quickly outline the main overarching principles that can help you learn English.

First, you need to spend time with English. By this, I don´t mean spending time using your native language to listen and read to explanations of English, quite the opposite, you want to be spending your time listening, reading and breathing English. 

This is a big mistake I made when I first started to learn Cantonese. I passed most of my time listening to podcasts teaching Cantonese in English, instead of spending my time listening to Cantonese itself. I felt a real sense of learning, as the hosts of the show would teach me grammar points and words, but then just moments after finishing the podcast I could barely remember anything!

Because of this realisation, I decided to make an important switch. Instead of focusing on the podcasts, I started to focus on the dialogues, reading and listening many times over. This simple process of exposure and repetition helped my Cantonese soar. I started to actually remember words I studied the day before, my pronunciation and grammar started to improve as Cantonese started to become more ingrained in my head the more repetition I got. 

But then a few months after I started, I hit another roadblock. I started to get really bored with artificial dialogues. I felt my progress starting to slow down.

This was at around the same time my friend Olly released his course called Cantonese Conversations. Suddenly, I had full speed conversations fully transcribed so I could follow along slowly and read every single word. Suddenly I was motivated again, I had real Cantonese that I could practice listening and reading to. On top of that, the topics of discussion were really interesting, the types of things I would talk to my friends about. 

This made me realise the power of authentic and compelling content.

Lucky for you as an English learner, there are ample resources out there for you to use. The most important thing, is that there is audio and text so you can read and listen to the same content. You can hit the same article or dialogue from many different angles massively increasing your retention rate and your chance of success. 

By jumping straight into complicated debates or noble prize-winning novels, while it may be compelling, will be too difficult at first and leave you feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.

This highlights the importance of making the process progressive. By starting out with compelling content that is a lot easier, you can slowly and gradually build up your base and work your way up to more and more difficult content. 

You can start by importing short YouTube videos or my blog posts into LingQ, or by finding other short content of interest to you. 

Unfortunately, this is a long process, so you need to be patient. You won't learn English overnight. Try to stay relaxed, and enjoy spending time with English as much as you can.

Methodology 

In this  section I will break down the steps and methodology I use to learn foreign languages, and that you can use to learn English.

Setting monthly goals

By being specific and setting a time frame, you will know exactly how much you need to complete each day in order to achieve your monthly goal. This also helps see the bigger picture and keep pushing forward.

When I first start off learning a new language, I start off by choosing a beginners course and aiming to complete all of the dialogues within a certain time frame. When I was learning Spanish, I gave myself the deadline of 1 month.

It is important that you don't allow yourself to stay with learners content for too long. While it can be useful to get started in a new language, you need to move onto interesting and compelling content as soon as possible. 

For you, I recommend reading and listening to the articles on this website. Every article I have written after February 2019 comes with full audio. I speak at full speed with natural speech, so this will be very hard for you listening at first, but this is completely normal.

By using the text to help you understand what is being said, and looking up the words you need in order to understand, gradually you will understand more and more. Soon, the "fast" speech will start to become normal.

 

Focused Study Time

So once you have selected your goal, how do you actually achieve it? How do you ensure you keep going and build the solid and sustainable routine you need in order to learn English?

This brings me to what I consider the cornerstone of my learning, focused study time.

Every morning at the same time before work, I wake up and have dedicated and focused time to learn. I like to do this first thing in the morning before the rest of the world has a chance to distract me. I am fresh, I am focused, I can concentrate. 

I make sure my phone is either switched off or in flight mode and try to keep myself completely free of distractions. Making sure you have regular time that you can come back to day after day and really focus, ensures that you can keep on making progress even when life tries to get in the way.

When I first started, I only did 30 minutes a day. It is important that you start small and make sure you can keep it up over the long term. Once you are comfortable with 30 minutes, you can always increase the amount of time you spend later. Typically, I like to spend 1 hour each morning as non-negotiable language time. 

Breaking down language dialogues

Now you have carved out your focused study time, what do you actually do with it?

This is where I like to listen and read to language dialogues. By dialogue, I mean any piece of audio in your target language that isn't too long and with text. 

In the early stages, I pick very short dialogues, no longer than 2 minutes long. As I start to get better and more comfortable in a language, I slowly shift from more intensive study with a lot of repetition to extensive study. You should try to read as much as you can and cover a lot of ground. 

This is an example of my morning routine when I was learning Cantonese:

6:30 to 6:45: Wake up, listen to the dialogue on loop while I eat breakfast

6:45 to 6:55: Listen to the dialogue while following along with the transcript. This helps me notice all of the words I know but couldn't hear.

6:55 to 7:00: 5 minute break while I wash up my bowl from breakfast

7:00 to 7:20: Read through the text slowly, look up and make note of all of the words I don't know. Once I have been through once, re-read a few times to help remember all of the new words.

7:20 to 7:25: 5 minute break while I clean my teeth

7:25 to 7:35: Listen to the dialogue while following along with the transcript. This time you should understand everything. If you forget a word, go back to your notes and check the meaning.

7:35 to 7:45: Listen to the dialogue with only audio. This time, you should be aiming to hear and understand everything, without the help of the transcript. You will most likely find you start to forget a lot more, and there are certain words you cannot hear. This is normal, just keep listening over a few times to see what you can understand. After you have identified the bits you are stuck on, refer back to the text and re-read. Then listen to the audio again to see if you can understand everything. 

7:45: Shower, get ready and go to work.

This seems like an awful lot of work, but it is important to note that during the initial stages learning a new language I pick very short dialogues, no longer than 2 minutes.

Also, to help me maintain focus and concentration I reserve two 5 minute breaks. Do not turn on your phone during this time. If you do, 5 minutes will quickly turn into 20, and it will also sap your concentration for the rest of the hour. 

As I get better in a language, I move away from this rigid process of listening and reading, and just try to expose myself as much as I can through reading interesting content.

Immersion

I classify immersion as anything enjoyable you do with the language you are learning outside of your focused study time.

When I was learning Cantonese in the beginning, my listening comprehension was too bad to be able to understand TV dramas or movies. Therefore, I limited my Cantonese TV to things I could enjoy even if I didn't understand everything. I watched the Cantonese dub of one of my childhood favourite animes, One Piece, as well as watching a variety of Kung Fu films from Hong Kong.

Even if you don't understand a single word that is being said in the entire film, you can still enjoy it! 

As your listening comprehension starts to improve, you can start to move onto a wider range of content. You can start watching more TV dramas, romance films, thrillers and so on. Normally, I prefer TV series over films because it gives my brain time to get used to how the characters speak, as well as the underlining themes and style of the show. 

The most important thing about immersion is not to try and study English, nor to try and understand every word. The purpose of immersion is to enjoy spending as much time with English as you possibly can, and just by engaging with English you will learn more and more as time goes on. 

Additionally, you can take the dialogues from your focused study time and listen on loop as you walk around. The increased repetition will help reinforce what you learned earlier and help to improve your listening skills. 

If you use the blog posts and audio on this website for your focused study time, you will already be getting used to the sound of my voice. For more relaxed watching in your immersion time, you can head over to my YouTube channel and watch my videos over there. They are mostly unscripted and unedited so you can learn very authentic and contemporary British English this way, as real people speak in real life. 

Flashcards

Do you have lots of unused pockets of time throughout your day?

If you use this time to learn English, this can seriously start to add up as the days and week go by.

But what can you do during this time? This is where I like to use something called SRS flashcards. My favourite is called Anki.

How this works is exactly like the traditional paper-based flashcards you probably used to study with at school. You have a prompt on the front of the card, and a piece of information you want to remember on the back.

Now you can get entire decks of cards to remember all on your smartphone. What´s more, is that they utilise something called spaced repetition.

Every time you recall a new piece of information using this app, the amount of time until your next review increases. Say you learn an English sentence, it will first show up 10 minutes later. If you get that right, it will show up after 1 day, then 3 days, then 1 week, and so on until eventually it sticks into your long term memory.

This is a great way to learn specific vocabulary relevant to you, and to use all of the small pockets of time across the day. 

So how exactly do you use flashcards? The most important thing is to capture whole sentences and make sure you take words in context.

Then, you can put your mother tongue on side 1, and the English sentence on side 2. When you see the card, try to recall the whole sentence, just like you would need to do in conversation.

The other alternative is to help boost your comprehension and understanding of English by having English on the front of the card, reading the sentence, and then having the translation in your mother tongue on the back. This way is great for building up your reading comprehension in English and can help you learn to understand more sentences from English books and TV. 

Speak

If you follow the steps above, and make sure to keep on listening and reading in English your comprehension will gradually improve. As you flood your brain with more and more English, you will find certain words and phrases start popping into your head.

But no matter how good your comprehension is, you won't get fully confident at speaking until you speak a lot. At the start, I felt very nervous, I didn't really know what to say and I was worried I would make lots of mistakes.

That is why I made the decision to go over to italki to find language partners and teachers to practice with. Not only can you practice English in a safe environment with someone who understands your position, but you can also ask your teacher to write down the most important words and phrases in the chat box for you to learn later. 

In my opinion, the most important thing when it comes to language learning is communication and to enjoy the process. By finding a partner you like and enjoying regular conversations, coupled with lots of listening and reading in English, you will notice your English improve organically and quickly as a result. As more and more time goes by, your confidence will grow and you will become more and more fluent in English. 

Conclusion

Learning English won't be an easy or a quick journey, but it can be an enjoyable one. Learning a language should be a journey of discovery into a new culture and a new way of thinking. With the masses of content available online for English, millions of speakers, a whole world awaits for you to explore.

By following the advice outlined in this post, sticking with me, reading and listening to my new material as it comes out your English will gradually get better and better over time. Not only that, you will learn valuable insights and tips as you go to make your language learning even more efficient and enjoyable than before. 

Now you have got to the end of this post, and you know what to do, the only thing that is left is to get started. For your first article, I suggest reading the English version of this post if you havent already, as you are already familiar with the content. This will be much easier for you to understand and you will be able to learn in a more natural and organic way. And remember, any questions at all don't hesitate to leave me a comment below.