Learning a new language takes time and dedication. In reality, it’s a life long journey, even for native speakers! So, there will be times during that journey where you aren’t able to secure the services of an instructor. If, for whatever reason, you find yourself in this situation with no idea how to progress, don’t worry! There are many opportunities to practice your English on your own!
Yes, it’s absolutely possible to learn English without a teacher! Set goals for yourself and track your progress. If you create a positive learning environment for yourself, you’ll make just as much progress on your own.
Why do you want to learn English?
If you are going to be your own teacher, you need to do some of the things a good teacher does. The first thing I do with all my students is called needs analysis. This is a fancy way of saying that I figure out why the student wants to learn English.
Everyone has their own reasons for learning a new language. Language is a tool we use to communicate with the people around us. We use language for business, education, pleasure, and for everyday life. So, of course, with a topic this broad, everyone is going to have a different reason for learning.
As such, your first order of business is to find out why you want to learn English. Do you need it for work or school? Do you want to read English books, listen to English music, or watch English movies & TV shows? Perhaps you have a romantic partner who speaks English and you want to communicate better with them. Whatever your reason, this will influence your learning path.
If you only need to read English, it doesn’t make sense to practice speaking it. If you only need to practice speaking English, it doesn’t make sense to practice writing it.
Of course, you want your language skills to be well rounded, but your ultimate goals will greatly impact the way you should be studying. It’s okay to have weaker writing skills if you spend most of your time speaking English and not writing it.
Set language goals.
Once you understand your language needs, you need to set goals. We have already discussed the enormity of English as a topic. Improving your English abilities can be an overwhelming task to approach alone. It doesn’t have to be, however.
You can make learning English more manageable by breaking down your learning into smaller goals. This helps you track your progress easier and can help maintain your motivation over time.
For example, you want to read a specific book, but it’s too hard for you now. Your long term goal could be to read that book without a dictionary.
Another example is with listening. Perhaps you’re watching a new English movie or TV series and the dialogue is hard for you to follow. You can choose your favourite episode and make it your goal to be able to understand, without difficulty, everything the characters say.
Confidence while speaking is a major goal many English learners have. You could set the goal of being able to introduce yourself in English without feeling self-conscious.
Goals don’t all have to be long term either. You could set a goal of learning three new words every day or reading four pages of an English novel daily.
These are just a few examples of the many goals you could set for yourself. These goals will be unique to you. You need to think about your current language situation and the areas you need to improve in. Usually, this is what a teacher analyses for you, but if you’re going to learn English without a teacher, you need to become your own teacher.
You can check out my article “How to Improve Your English Day by Day” for more goal setting ideas.
The importance of comprehensible input.
Whatever your goals, you need to understand that you must seek out content you can understand. If you try to learn English with content that is beyond your current level, you will quickly feel overwhelmed and lose motivation to continue. Not only that, but you will also learn very little in the process.
We learn language best when we consume material that is slightly outside of our comfort zone. You should be able to understand the English material that you use to study. There is a sweet spot where your previous English knowledge can help you learn new vocabulary and ways of expression through the material you’re consuming.
If your current English material is too difficult for you, look for easier content.
Learning alone doesn’t always mean for free.
There are many different opportunities to improve your English abilities for free. We’re going to discuss many of them very soon. However, it’s also important to understand that sometimes spending a bit of money can help you gain access to material or advice that will save you time throughout your English journey.
Time is the most precious resource we have and if you can achieve your English goals even one week sooner by spending a bit of money, this investment will pay for itself through the results.
Books, media subscriptions, online video courses, learning materials, and even short consultations with a coach can all positively contribute to your language journey.
An investment in high-quality materials is an investment in your language outcome. Of course, you can achieve the same levels of fluency for free, but the amount of high-quality free material is finite. Also, it can take a lot of trial and error, as well as extra time, finding materials and learning how to use them.
With all that said, let’s get on to some tips for taking charge of your English learning!
How to train speaking.
This can be one of the more difficult skills to practice alone. However, difficult does not mean impossible! There are quite a few strategies to use for practicing speaking English without a teacher.
This is a very popular and effective learning technique. You can use shadowing to practice your speaking, listening, and pronunciation skills all at the same time.
The basic idea is to follow along with an English audio recording (audiobooks, TV shows, podcasts, movies, etc.) and repeat aloud what the people in the recording say.
Sing along to music
English music is known around the entire world. There are undoubtedly English musical artists you enjoy listening to. You should use this interest to practice speaking!
The rhythm of music makes it necessary to pronounce words and phrases properly. If you can match the English singer, your pronunciation will improve along with your speaking abilities.
Talk to yourself
Without a doubt, the cheapest and most accessible way to practice speaking English is to talk to yourself. This method is available at any time and any place. All you have to do is start talking!
You can talk about anything. You can narrate your day; try to describe something that you see such as a picture or an object; tell stories to yourself. These are all examples of ways to practice speaking English without a speaking partner.
If you’re interested in a more in depth discussion on practicing speaking alone, I wrote an article all about the subject. Check out “How to Practice Speaking English Alone” here.
How to train writing.
Training writing will be comparatively easier than speaking. Writing is a solitary activity, so the options available to you are greater. The tricky part is correcting what you have written. It can be difficult to recognize your own writing mistakes, but there are workarounds for this problem!
All you need to get started with writing is a piece of paper and a pencil! I recommend physically writing out your sentences because the action of writing English words will help you remember them better.
Write a journal
One of the easiest ways to practice writing is to keep a journal about your days. You can write about anything you want. The everyday theme of your writing will help you become more comfortable describing these types of situations.
When you write out your thoughts, your abilities to recall vocabulary, organize and present your ideas, and think creative in English all improve. These are skills that every English user needs to express themselves confidently.
Additionally, keeping a journal in a foreign language just seems cool, doesn’t it?
Make some online friends
You can also practice your writing by finding some friends online. There are many communities online which you can be a part of. If you have any interests, you should find some online spaces where like-minded people hang out.
Once you make some friends, you will be able to chat with them and practice writing in English. You can even voice chat with friends and practice your speaking as well!
How to correct your own writing.
It can be difficult to correct your own writing. This is true whether you’re writing in English or even your native language. It is hard for us to recognize the errors in our own writing.
One good strategy is to return at a later time to previously written material. It’s much easier to catch mistakes in our own writing if we return to it at a later date. If you do this, you will find it easier to evaluate your own writing. Even an hour is enough time to achieve this task.
There are also communities online where you can seek help for writing correction. For example, HiNative is a language learning app created for this purpose. The main focus is to ask and answer questions about language, but you are also able to post longer written material and have it edited by native speakers.
The expectation is that you will edit the work of others posted in your own native language. This is a good way to give back to the community!
How to train listening.
We just finished talking about your “active” language skills. Speaking and writing are considered active skills because you have to produce your own output. Meanwhile, listening and reading are passive skills because you can interact with these types of content without any output of your own.
The internet is full of millions of hours of English language video content. Websites like YouTube and media formats like podcasts are homes to creators who produce free video and audio content every single day. Whatever your hobby or interest, you will be able to find some type of media to enjoy.
Of course, one of the first things that comes to mind when you think about free video content is YouTube. This website is visited by hundreds of millions of people daily. Millions of hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every day.
You can find English language content from huge media companies and everyday people like you and me. Many passionate people produce videos about their hobbies and interests. You should be able to find something that piques your interest.
If you would like to learn more about using YouTube to learn English, check out my article “How to Learn English with YouTube” here.
Audiobooks are novels and other written material that have been narrated for others to listen to. Much like English video content, there are countless hours of audiobook content (both free and paid) for English learners to take advantage of.
This is a website dedicated to providing free public domain audiobooks to the masses. Currently, there are over 15000 audiobook projects hosted on LibriVox. The majority of these are English language material.
The LibriVox project is the work of volunteers. Thanks to the hard work of these many volunteers, public domain material is available to be listened to for free by everyone on Earth. As great as this is, however, you need to remember that these audiobooks are produced by volunteers.
This means that some of the recordings’ audio quality may not be the best, or the narrators may not be professional voice actors. Although this isn’t to talk bad about the recording quality on LibriVox, I have been able to find many high-quality recordings of famous English books on LibriVox and you can too!
Check out LibriVox’s catalogue of projects here!
Alongside the free offerings from LibriVox is the Amazon service, Audible. Due to the public domain nature of the works on LibriVox, most of the books are over 100 years old. While there is nothing wrong with this material, some of these books are considered timeless English classics such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Alice in Wonderland, you may want to listen to more contemporary novels.
If you would like to listen to any novels still under copyright, the service provided by Audible is hard to beat. I’ve been a subscriber of audible myself and I’ve been impressed with the quality of the voice actors and clarity and professionalism of the recordings. Sometimes you feel like the person reading the book is the author themselves (and sometimes they are)!
Audible costs a reasonable $7.95USD per month too, so a subscription won’t break the bank. With this subscription, you get unlimited access to thousands of books listed in their ‘plus catalog’ across any device you own. Whether you’re using PC, Mac, android, or iOS, you’ll be able to access premium audiobooks any time and any where.
If you’re interested in trying out Audible, you can access their library of content free of charge for 30 days. Any content you take during the trial is yours to keep!
Sign up for a free 30-day Audible trial here!
How to train reading.
Much like listening, there is a wealth of reading material on the internet. The majority of the content on the internet is in English. This gives you access to a bounty of free reading material produced by native speakers.
This website is similar to LibriVox. Whereas LibriVox is dedicated to audio material, Project Gutenberg is focused on delivering public domain ebooks. This online library provides free books at no cost to the user. You can find thousands of English books to read on Project Gutenberg.
Like LibriVox, these books are often 100 years old or older. You aren’t going to find the latest novels on Project Gutenberg. The material will be older and may use English in a more old-fashioned way. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. Old authors tended to write at a higher level than modern authors. There has been a push over the past decade or so to write at an accessible level. This means that many modern authors write at a 7th grade level. This means that the average 7th grader could read that piece of writing. This has made writing more accessible than it otherwise was in the past.
However, old authors did not have this perspective. Many books, even those intended for children, were written using more complex vocabulary and sentence structure. Compare Alice in Wonderland, which was a story written for children, to modern children’s books. The comparison is almost night and day.
This is good news for you as an English learner! As we previously discussed, you want to increase your exposure to comprehensible language material. The vocabulary used by old authors tends to be a higher level than that used by modern authors. This exposes you to many more words and allows you to enjoy some of the best English literature ever written.
Of course, while reading, you’ll come across unknown words. If you want to learn about being able to identify the meanings of unknown words without a dictionary, check out my article “How Do You Read Difficult Words in English?”
The benefits of a good teacher.
Managing your own language learning is a lot of effort. You need to track your progress, set goals, find your own material, evaluate your own work, and maintain your motivated all by yourself! This can feel overwhelming for some people.
If this all sounds like too much for you, you might consider finding a reliable teacher. There are many benefits to having a good language teacher.
A good teacher will:
- find materials suitable for your level
- evaluate your progress and give feedback
- be available to answer your questions
- be dedicated to your success
- help maintain your motivation
This is only a short list of the things a teacher can do for you. Finding language exchange partners and learning material online can be time consuming and difficult. In the case of language exchange, many people find it challenging to find a motivated, serious partner to study language with. In my own language studies, I’ve had this experience myself. Often times you put in more effort than your partner does, or they are flaky and difficult to relate to.
A teacher is invested in your success and has experience helping people of all ages reach their language targets.
If you’re interested in this type of language coaching, please get in touch with me. I offer 1-on-1 language coaching services providing targeted, personalized help to language learners just like you. Check out what I can do for you!
Overall, it’s never been a better time to learn a language solo. The internet has broadened the horizons of language learning and made it possible to access high-quality English material from anywhere in the world. This is good news for you as an English learner.
In order to fulfill your goals, you need to understand your current abilities and prepare a plan of action. Learning a new language is about understanding yourself as much as it is about understanding your new language.