If you’re an English learner living in a non-English-speaking country, your English input will be different from the input of someone who lives in, say, America. A learner in America (assuming he interacts with people on an everyday basis) will get most of his input by listening to everyday, informal conversations between people. A learner in Germany or Brazil will get most of his input from “content” – books, movies, videogames, songs, Web articles, discussion forums, TV shows, podcasts, etc. – things that are printed, recorded and published somewhere.
It’s hard to imagine learning English well without access to English-language content. Reading a book or watching a movie in English is an incredibly motivating and powerful experience that can produce a dramatic growth in the number of words, phrases and grammar structures that you can use.
However, there is a small catch. Relying on content can create a gap in your knowledge of “everyday English”. You can read dozens of books, watch hundreds of movies and read thousands of Web pages, and still not know what to say when you’re handing something to someone (There you go), how to say that your favorite show will be on TV at 5 pm (It’s coming on at 5.), or how to use phrases like Looks like it, Fat chance or Dibs on the cake.
Why is that? Content has to be interesting. To be interesting, it often depicts unusual events (a secret mission, a war, a great love story) and unusual characters who speak in unusual language (Victorian English, inner-city slang, witty repartee). Only rarely do you get to see mundane activities like ordering food over the phone, discussing who will get the groceries after work, or complaining about the parking situation in the city.
Which brings us back to the difference between an English learner in America (whether a native speaker or a non-native who lives there) and an English learner in Germany or Brazil. A learner in America will be exposed to such “everyday English” expressions all the time. A learner in Germany will have a chance to hear them only occasionally.
Of course not everyone will want to improve their knowledge of everyday English. For example, if you are a scientist who uses English to write scientific papers and have technical discussions with other scientists, and you hardly ever have casual interactions in English, there may be no point in trying to become more like a native speaker.
But suppose you want to do something about your “everyday English” skills. What can you do? For one thing, you can choose content which contains a lot of casual conversations by contemporary people. For example, you would pick Desperate Housewives over Lost, Bridget Jones’s Diary over The Alchemist, a podcast over an audiobook.
Another idea is to find a “dietary supplement” – a resource that contains lots of everyday English expressions – and use it to fill the gaps in your knowledge. I really like PhraseMix by Aaron Knight from New York. PhraseMix is a frighteningly well-made collection of real-world English phrases. Each phrase is presented in context, for example:
Your dog is chewing your shoe. You want to tell her to stop, so you angrily say: Bad girl! Let go of that!
You’re getting into a subway car. The doors are going to close in a minute, so the train driver announces: Stand clear of the closing doors please.
You also get a little drawing (beautifully drawn by a graphic artist) showing the situation, like so:
The context and the drawings are the main reasons why I like PhraseMix so much. People learn phrases most effectively in real-life situations and PhraseMix gives you something that’s much closer to a real-life situation than a dictionary definition.
Right now, PhraseMix has more than 1,200 phrases, and Aaron updates the site with a new phrase almost every day. There is also a premium version ($7-$9 per month) which gives you access to a well-made recording of each phrase, which should make learning even easier.
Tom Mar 8, 2012 at 12:21 pm
Thanks for sharing us this site. I want to improve my “everyday English” as much as possible it is without living in native-speaking country, so I hope this site will be helpful. And I want to thank you for all Antimoon site, it’s inspired me to improve my English skill every day. Please write more :-)
All the best
Tom (also :-))
Tom Mar 8, 2012 at 12:39 pm
By the way, are you learning German, right? So, the Internet is plenty of good learning content of English (like the described site), but do you know any well-made and helpful learning content (like podcasts, everyday German, shows, movies, simplified books etc.).
In English even Wikipedia has brand written in Simply English (http://simple.wikipedia.org) but in German I know only BBC German section, Deutsche Welle and http://slowgerman.com.
I plan to start German from scratch and slowly collect “learning input” :-)
Tom Mar 11, 2012 at 9:52 pm
Check your local bookstore for simplified books by “Felix and Theo” (published by Langenscheidt). Best simplified books I’ve seen in any language.
Ferdie Mar 11, 2012 at 6:44 am
I have been looking for some resources like this one. And it seemed that I could not find one that I like. But by coming on this site (which is one of my favorites) again and reading this latest blog post, I am really happy that you share this very useful site with us. Thanks so much, Tom.
Paul Shin Apr 2, 2012 at 11:35 pm
I’m Korean English learnner. It’s always difficult to say something and write something.
It’s been 2 months since I followed your usefull methods. The most impressive also valuable thing is to not make mistakes whenever I say or write. I start finding myself changing slowly and I just want to say ‘thank you’
Shamim Apr 17, 2012 at 11:41 am
Thanks for your ideas
I agree with you.I live in non-English-Speaking country and its really hard for my friends and me to learn English as well as someone who lives in English-Speaking country.
and I’m sure that its impossible for me,at least.
so may I Ask help from you?
I’m really worry about my English.cause I have passed several terms of English classes with the best Scores and just now I understand I know nothing.
So,what’s the solution?!what should I do boo-buddy?!
Eli Apr 25, 2012 at 8:10 am
hi,tnx for your guidance :)
I’m citizen in a non-English country , and it’s really difficult to use my english doctrine every day and every where …
Well , I thank you , if you show me more info and solution to make my speaking ability better .
with thankfulness :)
Ricardo Apr 27, 2012 at 10:26 pm
My name’s Ricardo and I’m learning English, even though I never have been in a English-speaking country. I try to overcome this lack of informal vocabulary by watching cartoons!
It’s really fun and I never get tired of it. I’m 24 years old now, but I’m watching Pokemon and Dragon Ball (originally designed for children between 8-12 yo). I must tell you, I can see clearly: it’s helping me a lot.
A quote from today’s episode:
– Wake up Meowth!
– There’s no time for a catnap!
Catnap is a short nap. But it’s a pun in the context, because the character that felt asleep is a cat…
I put the episodes on my portable device so I can enjoy it on the commute =)
And – by the way – I love this site! I tried to use supermemo and anki many times and I failed, unfortunately, but at least I learned about the crucial importance of input over output hehe.
Ps: anyone, feel free to correct any mistake I’ve made hehe
Ricardo Apr 28, 2012 at 12:58 pm
I got a question for you Tom (or anybody else). I found this in your website:
“Only two years later, when dial-up access became widely available in Poland, did I persuade Michal to get online and we started to write to each other in English”.
Why “did I persuade” instead of “persuaded Michal”. This is prolly a silly question, but I got confused about it.
Thanks in advance!
Tom Apr 28, 2012 at 2:15 pm
Not only is it not a silly question; it’s very interesting.
Rarely do you see such good questions.
In no way is it a silly question.
In sentences which start with certain negative adverbs or adverbial phrases, we use the same word order as in questions. I remember being quite surprised at this after a few years of learning English.
Ricardo Apr 28, 2012 at 2:48 pm
I’m really thankful for your clear explanation! =D
Since I’ll try again to use supermemo, I’ll make three items today to make sure I won’t forget it hehe
A last thing before I stop bothering… That said, is it mandatory? Or are you free to choose between “do you see” and “you see”?
Tom Apr 28, 2012 at 2:56 pm
Skip Reske Apr 30, 2012 at 4:08 pm
I taught English as a Second Language for 7 years in Mexico, 4 years in the United Arab Emirates (Dubai), and 9 years in the U.S. I essentially agree with everything said on this site. I taught myself Spanish (living in Mexico there was no choice) without ever being in a classroom. I started with massive daily reading – beginning with comic books and slowly working my way up through juvenile to adult fiction. For me, the key was “pleasure reading”: the reading had to be enjoyable.
Although I think that beginning level classes in English can be beneficial for many students, the value of classes diminishes quickly as students advance. Intermediate classes help some students. Advanced classes are pretty much a waste of time. Students really need to approach language learning individually in a way that brings pleasure instead of pain!
Oh, and grammar study is largely useless.
The key, as noted in this blog, is large and daily language input through reading and listening. However, listening can be made very difficult by the common perception that native speakers of English or ANY other language are talking too fast. One of the first phrases I learned in Spanish was to ask Mexicans to please speak more slowly.
But, how can you control recorded listenings?
As an answer for my English Language Learners, I created a web site that includes listening and reading in English with (except for songs) two listening speeds – faster and slower (generally 15 to 20% slower). Anyone learning English may find my site useful. It is 100% free and has zero advertisements. It is a labor of love.
I am now retired from teaching but I continue to be very interested in language learning. Good luck to you all. Take it from an old English teacher – you can learn English without a teacher and classrooms and grammar!
Ricardo May 1, 2012 at 2:10 pm
There are ways to slow down music files without changing their pitch. Using the last windows media player available, search for “Enhancements”, then look for “play setting speed” and you’ll see a bar letting you do what you wanna do =)
Of course, the quality of the file will suffer a lot, but it’s better than nothing…
And great site! The subjects are pretty interesting and the recordings well-made. Thank a lot!!! I’m favoriting it.
Skip May 2, 2012 at 12:31 am
I’m glad you like the site.
I use Sound Forge Pro 10.o to slow the audio without affecting the pitch. Unfortunately, it’s an expensive piece of software.
Originally, I would slow songs down, but I finally decided that, unlike simple spoken English pieces, it compromised the quality of the music too much. That’s just my feeling…
But, of course, you are right – you *can* slow down music with Window Media Player.
Herbsman May 2, 2012 at 10:12 pm
very well. I just wanted to say that I think learning english isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I know this cuz i spent a coupla years watching english tv and donig other like reading stuff on the web for hours, but I still can’t speak english well enough to pass for a native speaker or what have you. antimoon and other sites didn’t get me nowhere either… and even more so I can vouch that not only have I not improved my english, but its gotten even worse. I also thunk using srs for learning advanced vocabulary is a waste of time because you’re never gonna use 90% of those words not in this life anyway so why bother? I think using big and fancy words is and should be banned. additionally, if you’re like 15 or older now I think you should give up learning english altogether as you’re most likely never going to master it no matter what you do. meaning by that age you’ve been mentally enslaved and indoctrinated by your society beyond the point of no return.
I’m sorry, I can’t seem to explain myself eloquently enough. the point I’m trying to make is that some people are born naturally smarter and superior to me in every possible way. most articles on antimoon go way over my head, so it’s possible that I’ve misinterpreted their meanings somewaht. I try to do all I can to figure things out, but one thing I’ve noticed is that whereas I’m struggling to catch my breath trying to learn something, smarter people smoke me off the line from the getgo and it seems like they haven’t even broken a sweat.
please, don’t delete my comment/ It’s my opinion and I have edited out all the swear words. i had a terrible childhood and i’m naturally negative as hell. i tried to change that about myself, but I really think I can’t be cured and my evil side is always taking over. as far as learning goes there are quite a lot of things i hate to do… idk if I’m alone in feeling this way. It’s not my fault I’m not as smart as you people obviously are.
Have a nice day
Skip May 3, 2012 at 2:17 am
Response to Herbsman:
I find your lack of self-esteem, your self-deprecation, and your hostility to be distressing. It must be hard to be you. However, these are issues separate from your abilities in English.
I taught advanced English writing for non-native English speakers for a dozen year at the university and college level. I have worked with hundreds of students and read thousand s of writings. Your command of written English is so good that I would not have allowed you to remain in my class – I would have insisted that you transfer to a regular class for native English speakers. Yes, what you wrote has some minor typos and punctuations errors – exactly what I would expect in a rough or first draft. Your lack of the use of capitalization was obviously a choice – something frequently seen in emails and Tweets by both native and non-native speakers. Oh, and in all my years of teaching, you are the first non-native speaker I have ever read to actually use the word “whereas” by choice.
As far as you saying, “I still can’t speak English well enough to pass for a native speaker”, I don’t doubt that is true and probably always will be. Among language teachers, we know that critical areas of the brain associated with language pronunciation are finished developing around 12 to 14 years of age. After that, a language learner will almost always have an “accent” – pronunciation of any second language (L2) will be influenced by the first language (L1). However, “accents” are not bad if they do not interfere with communication.
If you can communicate even half as well as you write, I think you should be quite capable of effective communication.
I learned Spanish as an adult. I speak Spanish well. I also speak with an “American accent”. I have often been asked, “Where did you learn Spanish?” My son, however, was 10 years-old when we moved to Mexico. His pronunciation is perfect. When he speaks Spanish, people ask him, “Where are you from?”
If pronunciation creates communication problems, there are classes, teachers, and material available for “accent reduction” – but not accent elimination.
Personally, I think you should be proud of your achievement in English. And as someone who is nearly 70 years-old, my unasked for advice is that you really need to be nicer to your self – there are always other people who will judge you harshly; you really don’t need to do it yourself!
Ricardo May 3, 2012 at 9:05 am
I respect you guys, even though I disagree with this point of view.
This is my small contribution: Khatz started learning japanese when he was 21 years old. He learned it in 18 months and now he’s fluent. Check out the following link: http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/about
A second fact that I would like to share: I lived in a countryside for 18 years. When I started my major in Law, I moved to a bigger city and my class-mates mocked me a lot about my funny/strange accent. After five years of study, it’s – at the moment – virtually impossible to identify where I’m from if you pay attention to my speech.
The accent disappeared naturally in the course of those years. This fact was largely noticed by my colleagues. Why is not possible to learn english as a second language to a native level?
Tom has learned it by himself and said “During my trips to England and America I was taken for a native speaker many times”.
Some things are impossible (like time travelling? lol), but this is just quite hard…
Ricardo May 3, 2012 at 9:17 am
Yesterday I was looking for a place to have cool English sentences, read by natives, to put into my SRS program.
I found out that Subs2srs is the most incredible idea of all… But it fails pitifully due to its horrible UI.
After a while I had some thoughts on words to search on the web and found this amazing site: http://www.moviewavs.com/Movies.html
The site is totally free, you can download your mp3 easily to fed SM. If you’re using Anki, you can just paste the link on the card and the program will download it by itself!
All sentences are followed by the correspondent written script.
Skip Reske May 3, 2012 at 6:25 pm
What I said about accents had distinct qualifiers (which I will capitalize here for emphasis) – qualifiers because how many things are *always* true? :
“I still can’t speak English well enough to pass for a native speaker”, I don’t doubt that is true and PROBABLY always will be. Among language teachers, we know that critical areas of the brain associated with language pronunciation are finished developing around 12 to 14 years of age (added note: that is a neurological fact of life). After that, a language learner will ALMOST ALWAYS have an “accent”.
I stand by that. Yes, there are exceptions. But in twenty years of teaching ESL and travelling abroad, exceptions are just that – exceptions. But, as I said before, basically – so what? There is nothing wrong with an accent. My mother was from Ireland and was raised speaking English – she had a lovely Irish accent.
Anyway, my site, http://esl-bits.net , was written for English language learners. However, I get emails from English language teachers suggesting I add things like quizzes and exercises and vocabulary lists and grammar points – you know, things many teachers seem to be fond of. I always respond that “BITS” is for English language *learners*, not for English language *teachers*.
It seems clear to me after a little reflection that Antimoon is a forum for English language learners to communicate with and assist other English language learners on a peer-to-peer basis. I’m an old (in both senses of the word) English language teacher. So, I am going to stay out of the conversation from now on, in other words, I’m going to ‘butt-out.’ I have my own thing to take care of.
I think what is being done here on Antimoon is really great and truly valuable!
Best of luck to all!
PS- If, by any chance, anyone wants to communicate with me in the future, visit my site and scroll down to the bottom and my email address is below my picture.
Adrian Hutchison Dec 22, 2013 at 10:44 pm
Since when did rule rhyme with fool? Rule is pronounced “rewl” fool rhymes with pool!
Lukas Jan 29, 2014 at 8:42 am
It seems for me that these tips may be useful in case if you want to learn language minimally, just because learning from movies or tv shows may be even harmful for right language. It was the same situation for me, just because I learned lots of non-formal words and then I started using them instead of normal, correct words. But later only this method- anglu kalbos testai helped for me to improve and to achieve the best results. Try to do the same and I guarantee you will not regret :)