“I want to know how to improve my English skills!” Whether you’re a native speaker who would like to learn how to communicate better or you are a non-native speaker who would like to learn more about the very important English language, there are a lot of reasons that you might choose to further develop your English language skills. Believe it or not, doing this does not have to be particularly difficult – it just takes a little time, effort, and attention to a lot of the little complexities of the English language. You can start out with a beginner’s course on English grammar, available on Udemy, or you can move on to other subjects if you feel that your grammatical abilities are advanced enough to do so.
Identifying Where You Need Help
Knowing whether to start begins with having a proper assessment of your English language abilities. Consider these following sentences and see if there is anything about them that you find to be unusual.
- Sentence 1: We went to the store, and I pick up some soda.
- Sentence 2: Their were three men in they’re house, but there about to leave.
- Sentence 3: I liked the girl, she was very nice.
- Sentence 4: I recycle because I care about the enviroment.
- Sentence 5: The affect of the medicine was not noticeable for him, but it had a noticeable effect on her.
Some of these sentences might seem a bit silly to you. However, they all represent common mistakes that both native and non-native speakers make with the language. In this case, sentence one represents a lack of understanding about tenses in the English language, as the first part of the sentence is written in past tense and the second part of the sentence is written in present tense. If you did not notice the different, or if you have found that you have difficulties with these tense changes, consider this Udemy course detailing the 5 basic tenses of the English language.
Sentence two highlights the misuse of three different words that may sound the same, but are spelled differently and have very different meanings. The words they’re, there, and their can be a big challenge for many individuals to learn – the same is true of other words with multiple spellings and meanings, such as too, to, and two. If you find that this is a challenge for you, then it may be important for you to focus more of your attention on English words and vocabulary, as well as possessive language and the use of contractions in English.
Sentence three may not be noticeably wrong for many individuals. However, there is a big problem in it. The sentence is separated by a comma splice – one of the most common grammar mistakes that people make. If you were able to notice some of the other grammar mistakes in this sentence, but this one left you confused, then you may consider learning some more advanced English grammar skills.
What about sentence number four? If you caught the mistake, then you are a spelling whiz – however, if you missed it, go back and look again. The proper spelling of that word is “environment”. Many people get it, and other words like it, wrong because of the way that they pronounce it, or the way that they may have heard it. Consider also words such as February, Wednesday, necessary, and tomorrow? Would you have spelled them this way, or would you have spelled them Febuary, Wendsday, neccessary, and tommorrow? If spelling seems to be your English language pitfall, then it you should probably begin enhancing your English language skills here. It has been said that using and spelling a word correctly ten times will often be enough to help you learn it for good, so do a little training on your own, or find a course such as Spelling Rules Redux on Udemy to walk you through the process.
Finally, did you spot the problem in sentence five? Like there, their, and they’re, the problem with affect and effect is that they are very similar words, and it can be confusing for some individuals to know how and when to use them correctly. In this case, they are switched around. If you spotted the problem in all of the other sentence and this is the only one that left you stumped, congratulations – you have done pretty well. Even very fluent speakers sometimes make mistakes such as these. However, there is always room for improvement, so read on to learn about more ways that you can improve your English language skills.
Improving Your English Grammar
With our examples above, it is easy to see just how complex English grammar can be. There are many rules to keep track of. It can be a good idea to look at each individual punctuation mark separate. There are actually mean easy ways to remember how each one is properly used.
Commas: Remember just one thing with commas – they connect complete thoughts with incomplete thoughts. It’s not as confusing as it sounds. Let’s look again at that sentence from above:
- Example: I liked the girl, she was very nice.
A comma splice like this one occur when two complete thoughts are divided by the comma. A comma is used when another (incomplete) thought is being tied to the first thought, or when another thought completes the other thought.
- Example: I liked the girl, but he did not.
- Example: I liked the girl, and I want to see her again.
You can generally identify when a comma can and should be used based on FANBOYS – coordinating conjunctions. (FANBOYS refers to the seven words that make up this group – for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so).
In the original example, a semicolon would be used instead of a comma. A semicolon indicates a complete thought on either side – essentially, you could easily create two new sentences with the two statements on either side of the semicolon, and both would make sense.
- Example: I liked the girl; she was nice.
- Example: We went to the party; the food was good.
- Example: She is very talented; I expect her to the competition.
A colon is generally used prior to a list. It indicates that what follows is an example, based on what was being spoken of in the sentence prior. This makes the colon one of the easier punctuation marks to use, even though the thought of it can be a little bit intimidating to those who are not as fluent in English as they would like.
- Example: There are three types of animals that scare me: lions, tigers, and bears.
- Example: I am off three days of the week: Monday, Thursday, and Sunday.
- Example: I am only afraid of one thing: fear.
There are, of course, other grammar rules that you need to learn in order to improve your skills. Consider this incredible advanced English grammar course on Udemy to learn everything you need to know about the finer details of the English language.
Overcoming Passive Voice
Here’s a little trick that can improve anybody’s English skills, whether they are a beginner or a professional writer. Passive language bogs things down, and can lead to boring and uneventful sentences. If you’re one of those many people saying “I want to learn how to improve my English!” then listen up.
Passive voice occurs when the object of an action appears first in a sentence’s construction. Active voice occurs when the thing or person performing the action is the subject of the sentence. Here are some examples of each to help you understand the Difference.
- Example: The house was demolished by the storm.
- Example: The fruit was eaten by the boys.
- Example: The dogs were adopted by a family yesterday.
- Example: The storm demolished the house.
- Example: The boys ate the fruit.
- Example: Yesterday, a family adopted the dogs.
This simple change is highly recommended for anybody who wants to speak more clearly, and who wants to say and write more dynamic sentences.
English Idioms and Slang
For non-native speakers, one of the more challenging aspects of the English language is the large amount of idioms and slang associated with it. English idioms can range from fairly basic and easy to understand to surprisingly complex. One thing to keep in mind is that idiomatic expressions tend to vary between the different types of English. Though there are some that are shared between US, British, Indian, and Australian speakers of English, there are also many differences. So if you are planning to learn idioms, be sure that they are for the type of English that you are trying to learn. Here are some examples to get you started:
- Average Joe: Refers to a man who is not special – who is ordinary in every way. The phrase “Plain Jane” is similar when used for a woman, but has more negative connotations.
- Bang for Your Buck: Common in business, this phrase indicates that you are getting a good deal – essentially, that you are getting more for the money that you are spending.
- Have an Ace Up Your Sleeve: While it refers to gambling – and cheating in particular – what someone really means with this phrase is that they have a hidden advantage in whatever situation they are in. This is another common business phrase.
- My Two Cents: If someone says they want to give you their two cents, don’t expect change – they really mean that they want to give you their opinion on a subject that is being discussed.
- On Cloud Nine: If someone is on cloud nine, they are incredibly happy.
For more idioms that you can use in business situations, consider taking this Udemy course on using English in business. It can provide you with a lot of valuable insight on your English language skills.
And as for slang, the one thing to remember is that you will likely pick up most of it as you go. Slang in English notoriously changes at a rapid pace, although there are a few words that have become pretty much ubiquitous among English language speakers.
- Bombed: Indicates that something, like a movie, did poorly.
- Booze: A common slang term that refers to alcohol.
- Cool: It means something is stylish, trendy, or indicates a person who has a lot of attitude. Cool is used with very positive connotations.
- Chicken: This word refers to a person who is being very cowardly.
- Con: Coming from the word “con artist”, which itself is derived from the word “confidence artist”, to “con” someone means to cheat them out of something that is theirs, or something that they deserve, usually through deceit and trickery.
- Dork: This term refers to an individual who behaves awkwardly or in some other socially acceptable manner.
- Grand: A grand is used to refer to a thousand dollars. Twenty grand refers to $20,000, fifty grand to $50,000… this word is commonly used in the business world to talk about large amounts of money.
- Gut/Guts: The gut refers to someone’s stomach. However, having “guts” means that a person is very courageous.
- Hang Out: If an English speaker asks you to “hang out”, you may be a little confused by what they mean. To “hang out” just means to get together socially, often for simple activities such as having dinner or watching a movie.
- Lame: If you already know the meaning of the word “cool”, lame is pretty much the opposite of cool.
- Scam: Like a con, a scam refers to a potentially shady business opportunity or investment.
If you are a non-native speaker and are finding that your main difficulty is in helping people to understand what it is that you are saying, then you may consider a course to help you improve your pronunciation skills. Check out Accent Reduction Made Fast and Easy on Udemy for more information on making your own English clearer and easier to understand. On the other hand, if you find that understanding English is the biggest problem, have a look at this great course that can help you develop tactics and techniques for understanding English.