A self-study guide

If I had to learn English again, I would do it following these pointers.


Learning is a process and every person learns differently. So the thing I would investigate first is your learning style. It will very much affect the process of learning you are going to create for yourself. Yes, you are going to create your learning process! No one else! So remember that there is no one else responsible for what and how you learn. It is worth remembering and reminding yourself from time to time.


As you already probably know, any language has several components to it. They are, very broadly speaking, grammar, vocabulary, writing, speaking, and listening. You have to practice each of them to be able at some point in time to produce something in the language you are learning! The crucial thing to remember here is that you have to practice and you have to practice all of the skills all the time. If you don’t, then one or more skills will not be as developed as others and so you will not be able to fully understand and communicate in the language you are learning.


Learning a language can be divided into two parts. Reading and listening are passive skills as you have to focus on, analyze, and understand as much as possible different types of written or recorded material. Speaking and writing are active forms of learning as they require you to produce something in a spoken or written form. Here you use what you have learned when you were practicing reading and listening. In other words, you use and practice a different set of skills depending on whether you want to practice in a passive or an active way.


There are thousands of various resources you can use to learn and practice English. So before you start learning, it would be a good idea to spend some time researching online tools that might be of great use to you. Try them and see if you like them. There’s no point using something you are not happy with. However, don’t get discouraged when a tool is a bit complicated to use. You should learn how to use it! Once you know your options, it is time to make a plan.


Here comes the trickiest part of the learning process. You have to decide what you want to learn. In other words what your goal is? Maybe you want to learn English from scratch? Maybe you want to prepare for an exam? Maybe you want to learn business English? Or academic English? You should be very specific here! Once you know what you want then you should do an online assessment test to know your level of English and then plan accordingly.


A detailed plan doesn’t and shouldn’t involve years of studying but you should be able to prepare a plan for a few months. Decide how many hours a week you can devote to studying! You will get different results if you commit 10 hours as opposed to 2 hours a week. So be realistic in your expectations! Consistency is the key!


The easiest way to practice is to follow a coursebook. Very often there are other resources that complement and supplement it that you can use, such as a workbook, supplementary exercises, DVDs and CDs, as well as online platforms. All available online most of the time! If you don’t want to follow a coursebook, then you will have to use those online tools you have selected. Whatever method you choose, don’t forget that the human brain likes variety and stimulation so it is advisable to learn the same thing in different ways.


Here’s a brief overview of what you could do:


Passive skills:




You should read everything that fits your level of language fluency or is slightly too difficult. So what can you read?


Children’s books – good when you are starting (don’t confuse children’s books with fables and other literature for children written hundreds of years ago)

short stories – very useful for beginners

teenage literature – great for expanding vocabulary and grammar structures

novels – good if you are B2 and above, so you don’t put it down after 5 pages when you discover that vocabulary is too difficult for you to understand as is the case with ambitious students on lower levels.

TV guides – so many useful words and phrases on so many pages!

Tabloids – again, a lot of useful vocabulary and usually a wide range of topics!

Newspapers and magazines – it is for more advanced students. I would start reading them if you have a very strong B2 level. Choose shorter articles first!

Reader’s series – a series of books adjusted to different levels in English

Manuals – if you are interested in a technical vocabulary and jargon

film scripts – this is for very advanced students




What can you listen to?


Songs – learn the lyrics and sing along; analyze the lyrics with a dictionary

Podcasts – so many good ones to choose from!

Radio in English – choose the radio station from a country whose accent you like or want to master; listen actively which means you really try to understand what they are talking about; listen passively which means you play it in the background while you are doing other things. Your brain always listens and learns!

YouTube – find a YouTuber who talks about a topic that is familiar to you. The other thing you should do is find a channel dedicated to teaching English in your native language. That way you can learn all the nuances of English from the perspective of your native language. It saves a lot of time! And then you should find a YouTube channel in English dedicated to teaching English. The same topics will be presented to you in English.

Watching and listening to live TV (possible on YouTube) is a wonderful resource. You can replay it as many times as you want and there are subtitles which are great if they are speaking too fast for you!

Recordings used in coursebooks – a great resource

Websites dedicated to teaching English with a lot of recordings and exercises grouped by the level


Active skills:




The best option is to attend classes with a teacher who would correct you right away! However, you can record yourself and later check how you speak. Speak slowly and enunciate words well so when you play the recording you can understand yourself.


You can try to speak for a minute at first and then try to speak for longer.

Finding a speaking partner could also be helpful. That person should be on your level or speak a bit better than you do!


Speaking is very much intertwined with pronunciation so you can’t neglect it!


There are YouTube channels that focus on pronunciation. You can stop the video and read after a native speaker a short sentence or a phrase you see on a screen. You can and should use foreshadowing as well. It means you read what is on the screen, a story for example, while the native speaker is saying exactly the same thing. Repeating what native speakers say in the exact same way is a wonderful tool. It takes some practice but don’t ignore it!




Writing is tricky because you need someone else to show you your mistakes! I would still encourage you to write even if you don’t have a native speaker or a teacher around to show your writings to. Before you start writing choose a topic of your writing, its form, its register, and select vocabulary you want to include. Read a few model answers before you start! Imitate!


So what can you write?


Write sentences with new vocabulary you learn every day! Simple sentences, they don’t have to be super complex. In my opinion, you should avoid writing super long and super complex sentences at first because you might get into the habit of writing incorrectly. Remember that the longer the sentence the more mistakes you can make. I would use Google translate or some other free online translator to help you. I want you to be mindful though that these tools are not super accurate so using a dictionary is advisable!


You can write blog entries – short and long.


Write about things that interest you or are important to you.


In my opinion, the most important thing is to write in a coherent and cohesive manner. It means creating a logical bridge between words, sentences, and paragraphs. It is a difficult thing, so don’t be hard on yourself when you start!


Rewriting is yet another great method. It is for more advanced students. Keep everything that you write. After some time try to rewrite it and correct it. Try to say the same thing using different words! It is a marvelous exercise!


Finding and correcting mistakes – there are plenty of exercises on this.


Write essays (and other types of texts) – there are many topics and many model answers to analyze and imitate online!


If you love writing you could write short stories!


But how to check if it is error-free?


If you don’t have a teacher or a native speaker around to show them your writing then there is another method: proofreading. There are free online proofreading websites that can help you with checking your writing. Remember it is only software and so it might be wrong sometimes.


And then there is …




Everybody loves grammar. A million rules and hundreds of exceptions! I would choose a good grammar book with a lot of exercises and an answer key. There are plenty of grammar books on the market and they teach the same things. I have my favorite grammar book series and I wish I had been using it when I was a teenager. I use it with my students all the time! It is MyGrammarLab. I love it and recommend it to anyone! Whatever book you choose, remember to enjoy it as much as you can. A word of caution! There are books out there with a lot of photos included. They look nice and when you are leafing through them they seem so colorful and you want to buy them. Remember that photos are just that, photos. You will not learn much by looking at the photos! The good thing about English grammar is that there are thousands of resources online to help you. Choose wisely!


If you can it would be good to find grammar differences between your native language and English. I know some languages share nothing or very little with European languages, let alone with English, and it could be both an advantage and a disadvantage.


Other pointers:


How to use a dictionary?


It may seem like an obvious question but I would encourage you to highlight words you check. I would regularly leaf through the dictionary and see if you remember these words. If you don’t, put a small asterisk sign next to it to remind you next time that the last time you were going through the dictionary you didn’t remember the meaning of that particular word. What’s more, I would learn words in groups. So in a dictionary words are found in an alphabetical order which allows you to familiarise yourself with a word family of the word you are checking. It can help you significantly expand your vocabulary!


How to put it all together?


It is a very good question! I think only you can figure it out yourself. After all, you are learning on your own and so you have to adjust every single element to your pace, needs, and goals. However, if I were you, I would practice regularly all these skills. Be consistent! Consistency will take you far! At the same time don’t go overboard with it. You don’t want to lose your motivation after a week! Baby steps!


Old books and materials


There are still a lot of old coursebooks in circulation that can be found in bookstores, libraries, and second-hand bookshops. English has not changed that much since their publication. In my opinion, these books should still be used and they are much cheaper than the recently published course books! Sometimes I think that the older materials are better than the newer ones. Fewer pictures, richer in content!




I absolutely adore this method of learning. The Internet is rife with websites specializing in translation exercises. From some easy sentences to more complex paragraphs, in any language you want. It is for all levels!


If you use any other method I have not mentioned in this short article, please share it in the comments below.

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