Disclaimer: this post just shapes my opinion on how to become better in English. I’m not forcing anyone to follow the way I describe here. There are no links, promo-codes, Skype contacts, etc to share. I believe you may google them by yourself. The text given below is rather random advise that I consider to be useful. I admit it could look a bit weird to you or even wrong, but I don’t care.

You may notice I’ve been blogging in English for the last two month. That is not because I’m so good at it. I’m really far away from reckoning myself as a confident English speaker. The auditory of this blog are native Russian speakers in most. So why switching then?

Well, I consider writing in English as additional effort to learn it.

Switching to another language also shifts something in your mind, I bet. It’s not as simple as I wish, though. When write English posts, I often feel I sound unnatural and the sentence looks artificial. Sometimes, I cannot find a proper word to ship the idea with all its details.

In that post, I’m going to share a set of advise for those who just started learning English. I’d like somebody gave me a hand several years ago. These are just my opinion, though. Following them is up to you.

First, you agree that English is quite important. All the new materials nowadays appear in English-speaking communities first. Blog posts, articles, documentation, talks… It would take a long time before they come into Russian- or any other Cyrillic-speaking group being translated poorly. Why wait for such long?

Books? I’m feeling sad saying this, but I’ve stopped buying Russian IT books for now. Usually they are outdated: up to decade of years might pass since the original edition was issued. It’s OK though when you are interested in particular academic knowledge or algorithms, O-complexity and everything that has not been altered for years. For example, there are some quite good books on C and Pascal in Russian.

But usually our books are made of extremely bad quality. They are issued with lots of typos and missing spaces in the text. Even MS Word auto-correction could indicate most of them. The page layout is terrible: thin margins, weird font, large gaps or tunnels in paragraphs. Paperback’s quality is low. Opening such a book twice breaks it in the middle on two half. Agrrr!

For the last year, I’ve been reading SICP in Russian edition. It suffers from all the issues I covered above. I’m finishing it on Kindle nowadays.

Working with foreign customers brings more income. It also makes you more independent and opens world-wide opportunities. Read my previous post on remote working.

I’m sure I was convincing on telling the reasons you should learn English. Now we may focus on steps required.

Start with something simple: enable English language whenever you can. In your phone, computer or a tablet. Choose English over your mother tongue in video games or series. It is really a pleasure to listen to the original voices rather than localized ones, even made with high quality.

Attend to English class at work. I’ve been learning English in a small group of 6 at my previous job and it was a great experience. Small groups are great and the learning process is quite effective. Having few people around means you may count on having enough time to perform over the group.

No English group in you office? You could always organize it by yourself. I believe you may find colleagues who also want to learn it. All together, come to your head department and discuss an option to hire an English teacher at your office. Don’t expect your boss will agree at once. Be ready to share the price within all the members. It’s for your interests all in all, not for your boss. There is only one man interested in your career. You are.

There is a wide-spreaded myth that only a native speaker could be a good teacher. That’s totally wrong. I’ve been thinking the same way for a long time. I confess it could prevent you from meeting a really good teacher.

Remember, even a great pronunciation does not make a person a good tutor. A good one is interested in correcting your mistakes and giving useful advise. Instead, a good native-speaker who does not have any teaching experience is not interested in correcting your English. You may say something with terrible mistakes, but your teacher will just reply “Wow cool!”. Such a way of having lessons does not give a result.

I used to take some lessons from a USA girl. She was a great native English speaker, no claims to her pronunciation nor accent. But she was talking all the time. I’ve been spending my time listening to her bobbing my head and adding “Oh really?” or “That’s cool”. That learning period went quite ineffective.

Nowadays, there are lots of cheaters who pretend being a good teacher. Don’t let them fool you. A good teacher asks you about the reason of education first. What skills do you want to improve? Reading, grammar, speaking, listening? Or prepare for exams maybe?

A good teacher always asks you to share you thoughts on every fact you discuss. It’s not because he or she is so interested in your opinion. It’s to develop your mind. Matt, my current teacher, asks me all the time regarding everything we talk about: what do you think on this? What would you do in such a situation? And even a particular question sounds naive, it could become a challenge to compose a good answer and share your opinion in a clear strict way.

When learning new words, there is a good trick to remember them. Open a exercise book subdivided on thematic sections: food, cars, computer, home etc. Then put a particular word you want to fixate in your memory in a proper section. “Gear” into “cars”, “towel” into “house”, “ceiling” into “buildings” and so on. To find a proper word, don’t open a translation program immediately. Try to find out for something from you exercise book first. Write icons near the words you remember less. But never scribe a translation on your native language beneath.

When you are at your English class, do not switch at Russian at all, even you need to rest for a minute or say something that is not related to your class. Even if one is asking “What does the word X mean?”, don’t give a quick Russian meaning. Try to compose a phrase that reflects the subject in English words that you know. It is difficult sometimes, especially with such abstract terms as truthiness, honor and others. But you ought to try.

Do not drill English Tense Chart. One consider that chart as a formula: mix together “have”, “been” and the third form of a verb to get a proper result. They even pass class tests with such approach. It does not work in real life, though.

have + been + V(3) = profit!

Instead of drilling the whole table, I recommend you to focus on three main tenses: just past simple, present simple and future simple. That fits your mind because we also have three terms in Russian as well. For the beginning, try to explain your thoughts within these three tenses. Keep your phrases simple. It’s always miserable to hear somebody trying to compose a complicated sentence but stops in a middle of it, breaks the whole line and starts from the beginning… Please avoid doing that.

You’ll definitely need to use more tenses once you have become better in English. You’ll use them to bring additional details into your narrative; to fixate time boundaries more precisely.

For example, you spent some time on a task and still continue working on it. On a daily call, you might say: I’ve been working on that task for 2 days. That’s great because it brings the whole context of what’s going on. If you are not ready for using such a tricky tense, you say: I was working on the task for 2 days. This form is less precise but nevertheless acceptable. Finally, you may say: I worked on that task yesterday and still continue today. Past simple plus present simple. A bit redundant but also works.

What you really should drill is irregular verbs. A funny fact: there seems to be more irregular verbs then regular ones. In English, my school teacher used to joke, for each rule you’ve got more exceptions then ordinary cases.

A minimal table of irregular verbs takes about three pages of A4 size. The most used verbs in our daily and business life are irregular ones. Say, write, read, go, do, make, pay, eat, grow, raise… you will need all of them talking to your teammates, customers or friends. Just decorate your wall with printed table and drill. No life-hacks here.

I used to take advise on improving listening skills in my previous post about remote work. Start with listening to VOA Learning English videos on YouTube. They speak grotesquely slowly and clear and subtitles are rolling below. Chose any video you like and do the following action in series:

  1. watch it reading subtitles.
  2. Watch again without reading them (scroll the page a bit down); you should recognize all the words clearly.
  3. Increase the speed of video to 1.25 (Put a gear button, then “Speed”). Ensure you still may recognize all the words.
  4. Again, but at 1.5 speed.
  5. Finally, but at 2.0 speed. Return back to 1.5 or 1.25 if you miss the meaning.

A note: speed change works only in Google Chrome on desktop. Tablets and phones won’t work unfortunately.

The whole process takes usually 15 minutes per a single video. Even less then you spend on Twitter or being smoking. Do it every morning before starting your daily job. This exercise is quite productive, I may assure you. Even a week enough to start recognizing words in English songs. A month later you can understand most of spoken English as well.

Read classical English literature. Indeed, not technical. Classical literature keeps its own secret: the language there is quite complicated and well structured. For example, after reading SICP I switched to 1984 by George Orwell. That is totally different English that I have never seen before! The phrases composed in a such precise way. The text is full of adjectives and nouns that bring particular meaning.

But the main benefit here you start filling the structure of the language. Reading classical books brings huge advantages. Matt, my English teacher, highly appreciates my choice.

When you finish your English classes, you might still have troubles speaking to your customers. Don’t think you have wasted your time though. In a middle of your daily calls, try to find a chance to practice your communication skills. Personal English teacher would be a great option. As for me, I have 30 minutes lesson every week with Matt. He grew in London and than moved to China to teach English there. Usually, we discuss various themes such as politics, art, literature, hobbies and so on.

Finally, don’t think one day you’ll know English as completely so you may stop. You should never stop trying to learn more about English. Remember at school, you’ve been learnt Russian for ten years right? And you still make mistakes for sure. It’s the same with English. Once you started with it, it will become better and better, but you never should stop. It would be a catastrophe.

Learning English is the same as any learning process in general. Your life has just expanded to keep and grow a new knowledge. Like programming, math or something else. The good things never end.

But finally, this article has got ended for now.