Want to learn English? It may be one of the hardest languages to learn, but there are some really simple ways to get the basics down. In this guide we will go over basic vocab, syntax, grammar so you can get command of the English language and learn to speak English fluently before you know it. There will be examples for every item and a few test questions with answers at the end so you can make sure you are fully understanding the content before proceeding to the next section. So get comfortable and let’s get to work! If you are more of an interactive learner, try this introductory course to the English basics.
English is the most popular West Germanic language in the world today. It’s actually the number one most spoken language in the world, and the third most popular native language. It’s the official language of the European Union and the United Nations. Not to mention, the official language of movies from Hollywood, many popular songs and other worldwide organizations use English. So if you’re going to learn a new language, English is probably the one you want to choose. It’s going to make you more marketable in the job economy and it’ll help you if you are an avid traveler or just want to increase your knowledge. The English language is used countries everywhere but the most concentrated pockets of English speakers are as follows (in order): United States, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, United Kingdom, Philippines, Australia, South Africa, Ireland, New Zealand. There are hundreds more where English is the primary language or designated as the official language of the country.
Tips Before We Begin
As you may already know, there are hundreds of different English dialects, accents and other vernacular. Learning the foundation of English is going to help you understand most of these, but sometimes, like any accent, you’ll find yourself asking: what? Even I, as a born and raised English speaking American have trouble deciphering what the deep southern speaking folk in the United States are saying. Then there is the Scottish and they are a whole other story. Even Australian accents can be a bit tough to understand. Just know that you aren’t alone if you find yourself questioning everything even though you feel like you know how to speak English fluently.
1. Don’t worry if you mess up. We all do it when we’re learning another language, it’s part of the process. No one is judging you.
2. Spend time observing English speakers. Listen to how they pronounce words, listen to how they greet one another and the phrases they use. The more observant you are, the easier you will absorb the material you are learning because it will already be somewhat familiar.
3. Practice. Practice all the time. If there is anyone that speaks English within a 1 mile radius, find them and talk to them in English. The more you get comfortable employing the language the more natural it will become.
4. Don’t talk really fast. I know you may want to eventually sound like a New Yorker speaking 782 words a minute, but you’re not there yet. Slow it down and pronounce each word as its own.
Lesson 1 – The Alphabet
I know you aren’t trying to learn the written language, but it’s critical that you learn how to pronounce the English alphabet before you attempt to say anything. If you don’t know what sound an e makes, chances are your native tongue will take over and it won’t sound accurate. Even so, sometimes a word will not be pronounced the way you think it will. The letters aren’t always indicative of the word pronunciation so you will have to learn what certain letter combinations do. Most of this will be easiest to learn by interacting and observing native English speakers. Have a really thick accent and want to help get rid of it? Learn how to in accent reduction made easy.
There are 26 letters in the written English language.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
The letters listed below go capital letter and then lowercase letter. The alphabet can be summed up into seven distinct sound categories. They are:
Alphabet Audio – Hear each letter pronounced by an English speaker.
Practice using the letters in the words below:
Vowel and Consonant Teams
Like I mentioned above, sometimes when letters are together they make different sounds than they would if they were by themselves. In phonics, these are called vowel and consonant teams. Vowels and consonants are just different types of letters. There are five vowels (sometimes Y is included which makes it six vowels) in the alphabet and 21 consonants. Vowels can be either short or long.
A E I O U (Y)
B C D F G H J K L M N P Q R S T V W X Z
Here are some examples of vowel teams:
AI (long a): wait, the i is silent, and the a is dominant
IE (long e): brief, the ei sounds like ee
IE (long i): die, i is dominant and the e is silent
EE (long e): queen, the ee is a long e sound
EA (long e): sea is like ee, with a long e sound
EA (short a): head, instead of the ee sound, the a is pronounced
OA (long o): oat, the a is silent, the o is dominant
UE (long u): glue, the e is silent, the u dominant
A few consonant teams:
BL: blue, the b is a short sound instead of bee, so more like bhloo
SH: shoot, it’s just like telling someone to be quiet, shh.
CH: chart, the ch sounds like choo-choo from a train
NG: sing, ng will always be used at the end of a word, -ing
TH: the, th is pronounced with your tongue on your top teeth
Now, I know that this may be confusing and you may be wondering why you need to know this, but it is important for you to connect these sounds with the words as you say them. English is a complicated language but once you get used to saying these words you won’t think twice about vowel teams, you’ll just know them. Here’s some extra help with English pronunciation.
Lesson 2 – Numbers
Like learning the alphabet, learning the numbers is very important. Below are the numerical symbols for the numbers, the word and the pronunciation.
1 (one) 11 (eleven) 30 (thirty)
2 (two) 12 (twelve) 40 (forty)
3 (three) 13 (thirteen) 50 (fifty)
4 (four) 14 (fourteen) 60 (sixty)
5 (five) 15 (fifteen) 70 (seventy)
6 (six) 16 (sixteen) 80 (eighty)
7 (seven) 17 (seventeen) 90 (ninety)
8 (eight) 18 (eighteen) 100 (one hundred)
9 (nine) 19 (nineteen) 1,000 (one thousand)
10 (ten) 20 (twenty) 1,000,000 (one million)
Practice counting to ten until you have memorized the words for the numbers. You want this part to be natural, just like it’s natural for you to do in your native language. You can practice during your day by counting the things around you. How many cars do you see? How many people are sitting next to you on the train? Recite your phone number in English to practice numbers out of order.
Match the numbers with the appropriate word by drawing a line between them.
Lesson 3 – Vocabulary
In any language, vocabulary is the fundamental element in communicating your ideas, feelings, or thoughts. This is probably the most time consuming aspect of learning any language, and especially English. Over time you will build your personal dictionary with words you like and want to use. One of the most frustrating things for me, even as a native English speaker, is trying to find the right word for the right feeling. There are just so many words to choose from and half of them – I still don’t know. Sometimes, I want to describe something that may be commonly thought, but the word escapes me. My favorite example of this is with the word apricity. For years I sought a word to explain the feeling of the sun on a cold winter day. After reading, Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Words, I learned some obscure words that aren’t used very often. Guess which word I found? Yep, apricity, which can be defined as “the warmth from the sun in the winter”. My suggestion to you is to read as much as you can. If you aren’t versed in the written English language, at the very least subscribe to dictionary.com and receive a daily word in your email inbox. It’ll show you how to say, it, use it and what it means.
Lesson 4 – Sentence Structure
English grammar is pretty confusing. We have twelve tenses (which is a lot more than other languages!) and certain conditions to use specific words or phrases, ordering rules, silly idioms and so on. The best thing for you as an English student? We’re a genderless language so no need to learn the case of every noun in the language. I’m sure that’s a relief.
Let’s go over a few tips.
Sentences are made up of two parts. The subject and the predicate. The subject is the person or thing that acts or is described, and the predicate is the action or descriptive word.
Example: That dog is small. Dog is the subject and small is the predicate. You must have both a subject and predicate to have a full sentence.
You can break a sentence down into clauses. This sentence is made up of two clauses. They can be two different complete sentences, but we’ve connected them with the word “and”.
Example: That dog is small, and she is full grown.
A phrase is a group of two or more grammatically linked words that do not have a subject or predicate. It’s a part of speech inside of a clause. The clause being “That dog is small”.
Example: That dog
Parts of Speech:
In most languages you have parts of speech that make up your verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and nouns. Each one of these is very in depth but I cannot cover it all within the scope of this article.
Nouns: describe a person place or thing. Dog, is a noun. There are proper, common, concrete, abstract, countable, non-countable and collective nouns. Oh my. Check out this noun tutorial to learn more.
Pronouns: replace nouns with sentences to help make them sound more natural. There are indefinite, personal possessive and reflexive pronouns. He, She and It are pronouns. More on pronouns.
Verbs: describe an action. Run is a verb. There are action, main, auxiliary, modal, mood, irregular, finite, phrasal and non-finite verbs. Here is an overview on verbs.
Adjectives: descriptive words. Yellow, small and sharp are adjectives. There are rules to consider about the order of an adjective in sentences. There are superlative, comparative and possessive adjectives.
There is so much more to learn about the structure, components and rules of writing in English. Here is an English grammar course to give you a head start in becoming an English pro.
Is the word a noun, pronoun, verb or adjective?
Lesson 5 – Tenses
I mentioned above about the huge number of tenses in English – twelve – that’s a lot. I’ll break it down as concisely as I can so you can start working on how to say things in the present, past and future tense.
I get up at seven every day. (Repeated action or usual action, every day thing.)
What are you doing there? (Action is happening right now.)
She has lived on this street for five years. (Action happened at an unspecified time before and currently.)
Present Perfect Continuous
I have been working on my computer for hours. (Duration between the past and what’s happening right now.)
I finished the project yesterday. (Completed action.)
Were you studying when she called? (Action was interrupted.)
This house had been destroyed by a fire before you moved out. (Completed action before something in the past.)
Past Perfect Continuous
I had been working in the garden for several hours before you showed up. (An action happened in the past until another action happened in the past.)
You will have perfected your English by the time you leave the United States. (Will have + past participle.)
You will be waiting for him for a while. (Will be + present participle.)
By this time tomorrow, I will have been finished working on my project. (will have been + past participle.)
Future Perfect Continuous
You are will have been waiting for him for a while. (will have been + present participle)
Alright, that was a lot of information. To be honest, people don’t use a lot of these tenses when the speak English so don’t worry about memorizing them all, but know that they exist. The most popular tenses are highlighted and there is a course on the 5 most popular English tenses to help you totally understand them.
Select which word fits the sentence best for each tense.
1. Joe (lives/lived) in New York. (Present simple)
2. Mary (walks/walked) to work. (Past simple)
3. I (will be/had been) waiting for a long time. (Future simple)
4. (Were you/Had you) waiting long? (Past continuous)
5. You (will have/were) slept long enough by then. (Future continuous)
6. What (is/was) she doing there tonight? (Present continuous)
7. Bobby (has/had been) lived on Meadow Lane for eight years. (Present perfect)
8. You (are/has been) here. (Present simple)
Lesson 6 – Basic Introductions and Greetings
When you’re learning to speak English you should work on your introductions and greetings. This will help you open up a conversation with someone which can help you learn more of the language and increase your fluency.
How are you?
I am good.
My name is…
What is your name?
How do you say…?
I don’t understand.
I am from….
Can you please repeat?
Nice meeting you.
1. Remember to study these and then take a break. Test yourself by holding a conversation with yourself (not as weird as it sounds) or with a friend if they are available. Using the things you read here in real life will help burn it into your brain. For example a conversation (with you playing both roles, or a friend playing the other, in English or the new language) could go like this:
You: Hi, how are you?
Friend: I am good, and you?
You: I am good. What is your name?
Friend: My name is John. What is your name?
You: My name is Bettie. I am from Germany.
Friend: I don’t understand. Can you please repeat?
You: My name is Bettie. I am from Germany.
Friend Okay. Please, how do you say “Nice to meet you”?
You: (“Nice to meet you.”)
Friend: Thank you.
You: You’re welcome.
Friend: Nice to meet you. Goodbye.
2. Fill in the blanks.
1. What is your ______?
2. How ____ you?
3. I _____ fine.
4. I am _____ the United States.
5. You’re __________.
6. My _______ is Bettie.
7. I don’t ____________.
8. ______ are you from?
Lesson 7 — Confusing Words/Phrases
Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present. What? The word present, presents itself three separate times in that sentence. The same word, despite the same spelling and pronunciation, means three different things.
Since there is no time like the present.
This use of the word present means “now”.
He thought it was time to present.
Here, present means to give, or make appear.
This present means: gift.
So let’s look at a sentence using synonyms for the three different types of present in this sentence.
Since there is no time like now, he thought it was time to give the gift.
It’s confusing. I know. But that’s why we’re going over it. There are a lot of words in the English language that present this same challenge. Here are a few more examples:
1. They were too close to the door to close it.
These words are pronounced slightly different than one another, the first close means they were too near to the door. The second close means to shut. Remember the short and long vowels? Close the door is pronounced with a long o like in oat. Close, like near, is heavier on the s then the o. Don’t get this word confused with clothes, either. Clothes are things you wear, like a shirt or pants.
They were too near to the door to shut it.
The clothes were close to the washer.
1. Can you _______ the door?
2. How _________ are you?
3. What __________ are you going to wear tonight?
2. Two, To, Too
In a sentence, these words sound interchangeable. They aren’t. Two, as we went over earlier is a number. To can be used as a preposition (to connect words). It can be defined as toward, reaching as far as, and until. The word too is an adverb. It can be defined as additionally, excessively, very or extremely.
We met at two o’clock.
I am going to work.
He ran to the library.
I miss you, too.
The water was too cold to swim.
4. Where are those ______ people going?
5. I don’t know who _______ talk _______.
6. I love you, _______.
3. They’re, Their and There
This one is something that everyone I know gets wrong, every day. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a Tweet on Twitter or a status update on Facebook saying something like, “I am really excited their coming to my wedding!” This is grammatically incorrect and here’s why.
Their, is a possessive term for them.
Their store is closed today.
There, refers to a place.
When will we get there?
They’re, is a contraction for they are.
My sister said they’re really expensive.
7. __________ aunt went to the store.
8. We can’t wait to get _________.
9. Please put your dishes ___________.
10. _________ are going to London for vacation.
I could go on, but instead I will leave you with a list of the most common mistakes that ESL students make when learning the English language.
Lesson 8 – Improving Fluency
In addition to practicing these exercises and studying grammar, tenses, vocab and the pronunciation, there are a few more things you can do to help you become fluent in English.
Repeat and Practice.
In audio learning programs like Pimsleur, research shows that by listening and repeating you are more likely to learn the language naturally, the way a native speaker would. Think about how you learned the language you speak now. You probably didn’t pick up flashcards at age two and begin reciting them. More than likely you listened to your parents speak and learned what they were saying and what you needed to say to get what you wanted. You probably actually understood them far before you made any toddler noises yourself.
These are a great tool to help you remember vocab. Like I mentioned above, vocabulary development can be a long process but it’s also a fun one. Use flashcards to help build your personal dictionary. Write down vocab words on one side of a notecard and write their definitions on the other side. This way you can test yourself. You can practice this everywhere. Remember to say it out loud each time to hone your pronunciation. Put notes on there to help remind yourself of how to say it, too.
Get a conversation partner.
There are a lot of English speakers in the world. You probably know a few people who have a good grasp on the language who could help you out. Ask them to be your conversation partner so you can practice with someone who you are comfortable with. This will reduce that awful anxious feeling we all get when trying to communicate with a stranger in a foreign language. The more comfortable you are the easier it will be to focus on the details of your skills.
Lesson 2 – Numbers
Lesson 4 – Sentences
Lesson 5 – Tenses
3. Will be
4. Were you
5. Will have
Lesson 6 – Introductions and Greetings
Lesson 7 – Confusing Words
5. To, to