Whether it is grammar, reading, pronunciation or vocabulary, mastering the English language can take its toll on any learner. In essence, finding ways to constantly improve on current language knowledge is what separates the advanced learners from the beginners and, ultimately, their learning outcomes and how close they are to native-like mastery.
Language learners, in general, need to realize that knowledge is not necessarily gained only in schools; it is rather a direct result of how much time you devote to knowing more and striving for perfection outside of school. If I had to take a guess, I would probably say that I have learned English on my own more than during all the time I had spent in an English classroom throughout my education.
But, how does one learn or improve English properly on their own?
It is simple. One can learn a language in two ways, actually. It can happen both actively, through attentive studying, e.g. learning English at school; or passively, as a consequence of another action, e.g. listening to music, watching TV shows, etc.
Doing everyday things like commuting to work, getting dressed, cooking, cleaning, running, etc. all provide a relatively short time frame for doing more with less, e.g. improving your English. That being said, here are some quick, neat, and stress-free tips and tricks that can help you improve your English on-the-go in only 20 minutes per day.
First and foremost...
Take notes of everything you learn. Before doing any of the upcoming 20-minute methods for English language learning, every learner should be aware that keeping track of their progress above everything else is basically half their work. I have previously talked about the concept of a "vocabulary notebook" that I consider every language learner should have. However, you do not have to limit yourself to vocabulary only.
What you can do is segment a notebook that you decide to use as your learning companion into multiple parts. I always suggest to my students that they use it for two things: grammar and vocabulary, where they can write all vocabulary notes, e.g. new vocabulary items, examples in context, etc. from the notebook's beginning toward its center.
Then, as far as the grammar notes go, they can literally flip the notebook over and write all grammar-related notes, e.g. tense rules, usages, sentence examples, etc. from its end to its center; or vice versa.
Probably the most beneficial thing about a notebook like this is that you can always use it to catch up on your progress in case you forget something over time or skip a day of work (or more) for whatever reason.
Now, let us get into it...
Read a Book
Whether it is a book, magazine or newspapers, an English language learner can greatly benefit from reading only 20 minutes per day. Aside from reading being great for your health, it is also not too demanding or constraining for most learners when compared to all of their obligations or a lack of a reading habit.
In terms of language improvement, the positive effects of everyday reading are visible in more than just one language area. Because the learner can choose what to read as opposed to being given a reading assignment by a teacher, overall reading comprehension is improved and concepts are easily sponged in. Moreover, reading does a great deal in learning new vocabulary in proper context, as well as improving pronunciation and reading speed if read out loud.
Study from a Dictionary
Certainly my most favorite method of all time when it comes to improving my English comes in the form of a very non-traditional approach to language learning. In fact, I have been told many times that I was crazy for doing so. I started doing this back in my college days and have benefited greatly from it. It is why I suggest it to everyone nowadays, as I have basically seen the effects of this method first hand.
Whenever I want to improve my English, I simply open the dictionary and read it. I just move my index finger over the pages and stop whenever I see an interesting word so I can memorize it and study its meaning, collocations, use cases, etc. Sounds weird, I know...
Trust me, I could not think of a better way for an English learner to expand and improve their vocabulary. Moreover, by aspiring to use newly learned words and phrases in everyday speech or writing, their meanings are strengthened even more, which causes them to not be so easily forgotten and provides more opportunities to learn new vocabulary.
Try it out, you will not be disappointed.
Avidly Use Language Learning Apps
This is probably the most time-efficient method on the list. It can be done at any time, place, or device and does not necessarily require you to devote a full 20 minutes all at once. You can easily do this any time you catch a break, take a bus to school, before going to bed, etc.
Moreover, it provides endless opportunities for improving your English, as there are a plethora of language learning apps out there that you can leverage to their advantage. Most of them are vocabulary-based, but there are a lot that really hit their mark. What is more, most of them are completely free.
Listen to Podcasts
This is most definitely the underdog method here. Underrated for its lack of popularity among youngsters, listening to podcasts is something that you can greatly benefit from as a language learner. What is more, it requires zero effort and can easily be done while you are commuting to work or school, running, preparing a meal, getting ready to go somewhere, etc.
Just play it in the background for 20 minutes each day and you're good to go. Even more so, if you can pay attention for the entire 20 minutes, the better for you. It goes without saying, but educational podcasts imply significant benefits for your overall listening skills and comprehension.
In fact, most educational podcasts have a keen focus on specific aspects of the English language, so you can target specific skill sets of yours that you might consider weak when compared to something else, e.g. improving pronunciation vs. mastering a particular grammar feature.
Some of my favorite podcasts that I think can greatly benefit English language learners are BBC's The English We Speak, British Council's LearnEnglish, and Voice of America's language learning podcasts. The same here goes for everyday radio shows that serve the same purpose.
Use YouTube for Education
Instead of spending countless hours per day watching non-sense videos or listening to music, why not use just 20 minutes of that time to improve your English? Because YouTube is used so relentlessly nowadays, English learners are often oblivious to the fact that they can leverage it for educational purposes.
As such, it can be used to listen to music through a different approach and reap enormous benefits in the area of language learning, especially vocabulary and pronunciation improvement. This is something I have talked about extensively in one my previous articles, which you can check out here.
Moreover, there are quite a lot of educational TED talks and language learning channels on YouTube - probably more than enough to never run out of new language ideas. Just 20 minutes a day of diverting from your usual YouTube experience is more than you need to do so.
Review, Review, Review...
Probably the most crucial thing for the success of any of the methods above is consistency - something an English language learner simply cannot lack.
Let us put it this way: The time frame of 20 minutes per day is merely an optimal number for better learning outcomes, in general. However, that number may well be 5, 10, or even 30 for some learners, depending on their level.
Your only duty: Always strive to become better, strengthen your knowledge in different ways, and track your progress as you do so. More importantly, review what you have learned every single day before learning something new, even if it takes up a few minutes off of your regular schedule.
You can also try different methods out occasionally if needed. Just take your time with any given method. Review everything. Go over your notes (if any) every single time before starting anything new. Do the time; do not let it do you.
My point is: How long your learning lasts every single day really does not matter, as long as it occurs every single day.
Make any of the quick methods above a habit and your success is almost guaranteed, regardless of your current level.
That being said, I certainly hope your 20 minutes of learning English on the go every day will now be more fruitful than ever. Just use your time wisely, stay consistent, and you will be amazed by the results.
Happy learning, everyone!