Do's and Don'ts for people who are learning English

zerquix18 profile image I'm Luis! \^-^/ ・4 min read

English is currently the global language of the world. Some people are busy talking it, and the others are busy learning it. People from different countries all around the world communicate using English, and that includes us, who sometimes don't even a have a translation for some of the terms we use in tech.

But learning English can be challenging and fun. Especially because we all want to write and speak good English. For most of us, non native speakers, the goal is to speak and write like a native speaker, or at least be really decent speakers.

I've been learning English since 2012, and I'm still not at the level of a native speaker, especially because I haven't traveled yet and most of my interactions are on the Internet. This is the case for many, but it is still possible to write good English and sound pretty decent, and based on feedback, I think I've done good progress.

So here are some tips to improve your English skills.


Think you have to know everything

You don't have to understand every word you read or you hear in a conversation. It is OK to understand the rest based on the context. Many times you will know what a word means because you've repeatedly will read or hear it, but you won't know how to translate it to your native language.

Think you have to understand everything

Sometimes you will listen to a song, a low quality audio or a person with a different accent than the one you're used to hear and you will not understand what it's said. Don't think you necessarily have to and don't beat yourself up because "you haven't made enough progress" (I've done this). Some songs are tricky to understand even to native speakers, and the same applies for some accents and obviously, low quality audios. To overcome this, think of some songs, accents or audios in your native language that you're not able to understand, and think that someone who's also learning your native language would not understand them either.

Be afraid to ask the other person to repeat, rephrase or slow down

Most people will understand that you're a learner and they will be nice to you so that the communication can be effective. There's no shame in asking them to repeat, slow down, and ultimately, rephrase what they're saying so that you can understand it.

Be sure to memorize the phrases you will use to ask people to repeat, rephrase or slow down, so that you don't get stuck thinking about how to properly ask!


Use WordReference.com

It's the best dictionary online if you speak Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Arabic, Chinese, Russian and more. It'll not only teach you what a word means, but in what context you should use it. Some words are offensive, some words are only used it a particular place or have different meanings depending on where you use them.

In addition, some words are used in formal contexts or in way too informal contexts, and some words are archaic. This dictionary will tell you.

Finally, it supports phrasal verbs and expressions.

Have a list of words you've learned OR need to learn

This is not useful for absolutely everybody. However, having a list of words that you've learned or you need to learn is pretty useful to practice. The most common advice for learners of any language is repetition.

Write your code in English

Writing your variables, functions, files and comments in English is a great way to practice. This will not only benefit you, but will also benefit the community in general, because most people will be able to read your code. Most of the people who will read your code are probably familiar with English to some degree, so coding in English is coding for the entire world, and we code for humans.

Have your computer and devices in English

This will help you quickly learn terms and how to use them, and will keep you familiar with English all day.

In addition, most sentences will probably take up less space!

Write and speak, read and listen lots of English

Practice makes perfect. Great ways to practice through repetition are:

  • Listening to music in English
  • Tweeting in English
  • Writing articles in English (It doesn't matter if the English is a bit broken. There's a lot of broken English on the Internet and most people don't mind!)
  • Talking to your Google Assistance / Siri. This way you can see how much the machine can understand you!
  • Assist to conferences.
  • Listen to the Ladybug Podcast.

Pick an accent

THIS IS OPTIONAL. You don't need to sound native. This is particularly good for advanced speakers, but if you really want to sound native, you have to pick an accent of the English language. Most learners will have the accent of their native languages, so people will notice you're not a native speaker when they can't recognize your accent or when they notice that you sound spanish-ish or italian-ish. The way to sound native is by picking an accent and sticking to it, learning how the words are pronounced, what terms they prefer to use and sometimes the voice tone. The most common people will pick is the General American Accent, which you probably recognize by now. But if you're already surrounded by English speakers, it's preferable to pick their accent. Well, your brain will do that, unconscionably.

I'm hoping this article will help someone! If you're learning English or you had to learn it, drop some tips in the comments section!

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Editor guide

Having dealt with various non-native English speakers over the years, the one big thing I've had issues with is the use of 'the', 'a' and 'an', collectively known as articles. There are languages, such as Czech, where the sound (or spelling) of a word changes depending on whether you're referring to a specific item (equivalent to 'the') or any instance of it ('a' / 'an') but not in English.

So my main piece of advice to anyone from countries where this is the case is to concentrate on 'the', 'a' and 'an', as it helps native English speakers massively if you can use those correctly.

Hope this helps.