3(+1) Ways To Perfect Your English If You Are Already A Pro

Much to my regret, English isn’t my first language. It took me almost two decades, several trips to the UK, and a lot of frustration to get a grip on it. Yet, I feel like I have reached a plateau – a point where I am no longer making progress. 

Living in a country where the official language isn’t English doesn’t help either. But with Brexit looming and the whole pandemic situation, my plans to move or travel to an English-speaking country have been put on hold.

Moreover, stepping up your language game can be very hard if you have no speaking partner to practice with. 

So what do you do if you don’t want to give up on your “native proficiency” dreams?

Here is what has worked for me so far to improve my English language skills.

As you read, keep in mind that people are unique and have different learning goals. Some approaches might or might not work for you, depending on your strengths and preferences. Try them all to find out!

1. Read

I am sure this is the single most common language-related advice out there. Do you want to improve your writing skills? Read more then. Do you want to be a better communicator? Read more then.

The truth is, reading does make all the difference when it comes to mastering a language.

When you are already proficient in a foreign language, reading primary benefits no longer involve grammar or sentence structure. It rather helps you expand your vocabulary and avoid spelling mistakes

You remember or catch overheard words more easily when you know how to write them.

A consistent reading routine also allows you to become familiar with multiple styles and registers

My advice is thus to flip through varied sources on a daily basis: newspapers, tabloids, social media, books, newsletters, magazines, blogs, etc.

As reading in a foreign language takes longer than reading in your native one – and you don’t have all the time in the world, – select two or three topics you are most interested in and read the piece to the end. Your language skills will improve massively.

Bonus tip: keep a notebook of unfamiliar words and phrases you learn. Then try to use them when you speak or write to make sure they become part of your vocabulary. Sometimes there is nothing new in the text you note down, i.e. you know each word and their meaning, but the wording sounds just right and flows more naturally. 

How I rate this method

Language skills involved: reading, writing, speaking

Is it easy to follow through? 

You need some time (and effort) to build your routine and find the sources that suit you most.

Vote: 4/5

Is it useful? 

Yes, if done regularly.

Vote: 4/5

My suggestions & sources:

–         The Guardian UKThe Guardian International (online newspaper)

–         Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy (my current read)

–         Morning Brew (free subscription newsletter)

2. Watch and listen to English content

The trashier, the slangier.

I will be short here. Netflix series, YouTube videos, TV shows, movies, the news, radio broadcasts, podcasts,… There is so much content out there you are just spoilt for choice.

But if you want to move to the next level of language proficiency, scripted and RP (i.e. Queen’s English) content won’t do the trick – especially if your listening skills are already quite advanced.

As an Italian native speaker living “on the continent” – British for “continental Europe” – I didn’t realise how different native speakers can sound when speaking to each other in real life. That was until I spent some time “on the mainland.” Oh boy.

The language(s) I ended up hearing had nothing to do with the “continental English” I was used to. Was it the accents mix, the speech rate, or my unaccustomed hearing, I can’t say. But I felt absolutely dumb. 

Catching two words in a row felt like a success, while I was left guessing the other half of the sentence most of the times. I won’t mention my epic fails during phone conversations for decency. 

My solution to such a shameful inconvenience has been to tune in to as many English broadcasts as I could. And to my surprise, what has worked best for me is – brace yourself folks – reality shows!

Nothing helps more than hearing native speakers quarrelling. Not only that exposes you to a wide range of idioms, phrasal verbs, common sayings and the like, but it also allows you to get accustomed to different accents and slangs.

That’s because contestants usually come from all over the country. They also speak “freely” because they have no (rigid) script to follow as they would in a TV series or a movie. 

Maybe not the most educational method, but definitely worth it.

How I rate this method

Language skills involved: listening, speaking

Is it easy to follow through? 

Yes – especially under lockdown(!)

Vote: 5/5

Is it useful? 

You bet.

Vote: 5/5

My suggestions & sources:

–         BBC Learning English & Learn English with Gill (British English)

–         CNBC Make It (American English)

–         DW Documentary (International English)

–         UK reality shows (British English) – check out their American or Australian versions too

–         Joe Rogan Podcast (American English)

And this.

3. Think and talk to yourself in English

That’s a tricky one. You shouldn’t think about the language you think in before thinking, don’t you think?

Jokes aside, forcing yourself to divert from your native language when you are on your own can be beneficial for many reasons:

  1. You get rid of the tiresome translating process, i.e. you think in your native language first and then speak in English;
  2. The more you train your brain to think in English as its “default language”, the faster it will respond any time you need to interact in English;
  3. You improve your fluency and pronunciation by talking to yourself out loud. That also helps you find out which words or phrases you get stuck on. As a result, you learn how to rephrase your ideas quickly and express them differently.

What makes this method hard to implement is the way our brain is wired. When we switch from our native language to another, our brain needs to reassess its entire “language setup”. 

That’s the case for everybody, but while the process is effortless for people raised as bilingual children, it can prove cumbersome for “late-bilinguals”, i.e. people who learnt a second language after the age of 6 or 7. 

Moreover, your chances to switch from your first language to a new one permanently as an adult are extremely low. In my life, I have met only one late-bilingual who was able to do that. 

However, re-wiring your brain is not the aim here. You just want to sound more fluent and confident. That’s what this method will do for you.

How I rate this method

Language skills involved: speaking

Is it easy to follow through? 

As thinking in your first language happens involuntarily, it requires some time and focus for you to set English as your new default language.

Vote: 3/5

Is it useful? 

100% guaranteed.

Vote: 5/5

The ultimate language learning method: immersive English

What follows are two “immersive” approaches that will bring your English proficiency to the highest level. 

I mention them at the end because their implementation isn’t straightforward and doesn’t depend entirely on you.

Immersive English method #1 – Get a job in an English-speaking company

Be it a role in an international company in your country or an internship abroad, putting yourself in an English-speaking working environment will do the trick.

Think about it: eight hours a day, five days a week in a place where the go-to language is English. 

Repeat for month or years to come. You get it, don’t you?

Last note: even getting ready to apply for a position within an English-speaking company allows you to sharpen your (business) English. You need to translate your resume in English, write a cover letter, and go through several rounds of interviews. Sounds scary? Don’t panic. It gets easier over time.

Immersive English method #2 – Fall in love with an English speaker

This is harder than the first one, if possible! But it works magic.

That means coupling up with a native speaker or someone from a foreign country so that your “couple language” is English.

What if you are with a same-nationality partner and you don’t want to dump your other half just yet?

Try to speak English with them regardless. “Poor” practice is always better than no practice at all, and you will have much fun playing Sir and Madam together!

Over to you now! Have you tried one of these methods? Do you have any additional tips or advice you would like to share? Tell us in the comments down below!

Published by Nadia Musumeci

Copywriter. Millennial. Expat. And a lot of questions.

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