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Get input. Lots of it.

Input — what it is and why you need it ~ Input means “English sentences that you read or listen to”. When you read and listen to correct English sentences, they stay in your memory. You can then build similar sentences yourself. The more input you get, the more sentences you can imitate and the better you get at producing your own sentences.

Why you need to take charge of your English learning and get English input on your own, without relying on English classes.

How much input do you need to speak English fluently? ~ Tom tries to estimate how much input you need to get from basic English skills to fluency.

Why you shouldn’t rely on grammar rules ~ Because grammar rules are difficult to memorize and because building sentences by using grammar rules is very slow. You cannot use English fluently if you have to think about grammar rules.

Why your input should be fun ~ Thrilling, enjoyable and/or funny content is the key to your progress.

A few tips on choosing sources of input ~ What types of content are the most valuable for an English learner?

Formal and informal English ~ two kinds of English that you will have to learn.

Great output skills without output practice? ~ Richard Boydell’s case shows that to learn good output skills, you may not need output practice at all.

Ways to get English input

Reading websites and books. Reading is the easiest way to quickly grow your vocabulary and grammar, especially if you are a beginner.

Listening to recordings, podcasts, radio stations and audiobooks. Understanding spoken English can be hard for beginners. However, spoken English is very important: it teaches you pronunciation, the rhythm of the language, and informal phrases.

  • Listening is good for busy people because you can do it “in the background”. You can listen to English while walking, driving a car, cleaning your room, having breakfast, cooking dinner, surfing the Web, etc.
  • Don’t know what to listen to? Check out Tom’s List for specific recommendations.

Watching movies in English gives you spoken English input and helps you learn informal English vocabulary. You will often have problems understanding movies; we present a few techniques to help you with that.

Adventure games are video games where you control a character who talks to other characters. They give you lots of spoken English input and are fun to play.

Example sentences in good dictionaries. There are also specialized search engines for example sentences:

  • The British National Corpus has nice examples from a wide range of sources (both written and spoken). Unfortunately, the free search is a bit slow and, of course, the BNC only includes British sources.
  • There is also the Corpus of Contemporary American English, if you can handle the powerful, but complex interface.
  • The Correct English Search is a specialized search engine that includes only websites which are known to contain good English.

Spaced-repetition software (SRS) gives you a special kind of input (you could call it “artificial” or “intensive” input). When you read books, you see different phrases every day. With an SRS, you choose specific phrases and review them over and over again. This helps keep them in your memory. An SRS is great for targeted practice. Want to get better at using the present perfect tense? No problem. Just add some sentences with this tense to your SRS. Did you notice you keep making a mistake in some phrase? Add the correct version of the phrase to your SRS. Do you keep forgetting the pronunciation of some word? Add it to your SRS.

E-mail. Like forums and blogs, e-mails from native speakers are a fantastic source of “everyday English”, which is normally the kind of English you want to speak most of the time (except for some formal occasions). Communicating with a native speaker over e-mail gives you a lot of pleasure, as well as an opportunity to practice your writing skills.

Software. You can start using English versions of your operating system, your word processor, and other applications. Besides learning English, there are practical reasons to do so.