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How to learn English faster and more efficiently

Updated: May 25, 2021

Study Skills are skills and strategies you can use to help you learn English faster and more efficiently. I am often surprised at how poor people's study skills can be, even at the C levels! In a world where most of us have limited time for language learning, good study skills help us to make the most of the time that we have and make the learning process more enjoyable at the same time. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it's better to have less time and good learning strategies than an abundance of time and very poor strategies!

There is a very wide variety of strategies that you can use to help you learn English faster and more enjoyably. Some of these are used with language skills (for example, guessing the meaning of unknown words is an important strategy when you are reading and listening). Others, such as setting goals and prioritising tasks, are more closely connected to how you study.

In this post, I'm going to give you an overview of five main kinds of study skill.

Memory Strategies

My guess is that almost every language learner wishes they could remember more vocabulary and grammar structures, particularly when they are in a conversation. I know I do! However, retaining new language and then producing it exactly when you need it is a huge challenge. Learning a language to an advanced or proficient level requires you to memorise a lot of information, so having strategies that help you to do this saves you time. Examples of memory strategies include:

  • reviewing new language consistently and regularly, preferably by using a Spaced Repetition System

  • organising new language well either in a notebook, on a computer document or on flashcards

  • creating sounds and images for new language to make it more memorable; it's easier to remember pictures than it is to remember strange new words!

Cognitive Strategies

These are the things you actually do in the language such as:

  • practising

  • sending and receiving messages

  • analysing language

  • tasks such as taking notes or summarising

I feel that practice is particularly important. In order to practice, you need to repeat things more than once. It sounds obvious, but many learners don't seem to acknowledge how much practice they need to do in order to be able to perform a task well. For example, many learners feel bad about themselves if they don't understand a whole reading passage the first time. In fact, by using the strategy of repeated practice, they will find that their understanding grows over time.

Metacognitive Strategies

These are all about organising your learning and include skills such as:

  • setting goals

  • making study plans

  • prioritising tasks

In my experience, this is an area of real weakness for many language learners. Exam candidates in particular struggle with feeling overwhelmed by the amount of things they need to do in a limited time-frame. This is where clear goals, plans and prioritisation come in handy! Another metacognitive skill is evaluating your learning. Again, learners tend to be weak at this skill and are often very harsh critics of their abilities.

Affective Strategies

These strategies help you to feel better about yourself and your English. Although they may not seem as important as other strategies, how you feel and what you tell yourself has a huge impact on how well you do all of the other things you need to do. As an example, if you tell yourself that learning phrasal verbs is an impossible task and that you will never succeed, you are unlikely to put any thought into how you can manage this area of English. You will not invest the time and energy needed to master phrasal verbs. On the other hand, if you have a more positive attitude to learning phrasal verbs, you may train yourself to notice them, record them and review them, and are therefore much more likely to succeed.

Social Strategies

Again, these may not seem as important as some of the others, but using a language is all about being sociable! Having strategies to deal with problems in communication such as misunderstanding someone is very important! Social strategies include:

  • asking questions

  • cooperating with other people

  • developing a cultural understanding from the target language's culture

It is worth remembering that most people would rather talk with someone who was capable of cooperation and empathy, rather than someone who has perfect grammar but very poor social skills. If you have enjoyed this post, you may be interested in my Study Skills eBook which explores ten study skills in depth with tips and techniques for you to try!

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