The majority of English learners I communicate with are still trying to escape the intermediate level and become advanced speakers. This is a frustrating time, as progress feels slow, and many give up because they feel they will never reach fluency.
Anyone can attain an advanced level, but to do this, changes need to be made. Let’s first take a look at why so many learners are stuck at the intermediate level.
Why most English learners find it difficult to become advanced speakers
When I take on new students, I ask them about their learning history and what they are doing now. I always hear the same things:
- Two lessons per week (at school or an institute)
- Reading grammar books
- Doing grammar exercises
- Learning vocabulary and phrases out of context
- Watching a television show every now and then
Working through course books and doing grammar exercises can be beneficial for beginners wanting to reach an intermediate level. By spending a lot of time at school or language institutions, beginners start to have a basic understanding of English. Although this method works for beginners, it is not helpful for intermediate speakers.
In addition, this basic understanding is usually full of errors. These errors are mainly the result of learning incorrect pronunciation (getting this directly from a teacher who has a low level) and translating from a native language into English word for word.
Intermediate learners have to overcome these two problems to make progress. They need to change the way they learn English and also correct their pronunciation. Let’s look at a few ways you can do this:
Four things to do to reach an advanced level
Breaking away from an intermediate level usually requires a complete change in your mentality and methods. Luckily, this also means introducing more interesting activities into your learning process.
This change is also much easier now than it was ten years ago. The openness of our world and the amount of resources available means that anyone can apply these principles and methods.
Immerse yourself without moving to an English-speaking country
You can create your own English-speaking environment by doing everything you do now, but in English. This includes changing your search engine to Google.com, changing the language of your computer and phone into English, and using the English version of Wikipedia.
To reach an advanced level, you need lots of input in English, and making these small changes means you get hours of input every day. Your brain needs to adapt to the language, and this takes time.
The best way to speed this up is to be constantly listening to English. Get an MP3 player or use your phone and listen to English while doing other things. It doesn’t really matter what you listen to as long as it’s interesting to you.
Focus on context, and internalize grammar
By spending more time using natural English resources, you should spend less time on trying to learn English out of context.
The input you receive from the articles you read, conversations you hear, and television you watch will help you in understanding grammar intuitively. Memorizing rules and going through exercises doesn’t give you a full understanding of how to use grammar correctly. Rules can help you make sense of grammar, but massive input helps you understand.
Additionally, when you are learning new vocabulary, make sure this is rich in context. Never learn single terms; instead, you should always learn vocabulary as part of a sentence, making sure the sentence is part of a greater context, like an article, conversation, or music lyrics.
Work on pronunciation
I remember the three stages that I went through when I learned how to shoot a basketball. First, my coach taught the correct technique. I then went home and practiced this technique. After more corrections from my coach and more practice, I was able to shoot a basketball without thinking during games.
These stages apply to pronunciation and speaking in general. To be able to produce English sounds, you need to first know how to produce the sounds; then you need to practice and get feedback.
You will most likely have pronunciation problems that are related to your native language. Taking the time to improve your pronunciation will greatly help you when it comes to speaking freely and fluently.
Here is a website that shows you how to produce different English sounds. Think about the sounds you have the most problems with, and then take the time to change the position of your tongue and the shape of your lips so you sound like the audio. Then get feedback from someone to make sure you are speaking correctly.
Focusing on pronunciation in this way will help you speak with confidence.
Too many learners take English learning too seriously. They feel that having a high level is all about dedication and working hard.
The biggest problem with this is that it is very difficult to sustain. That is why so many learners go through cycles of study. They spend a couple of months working hard, followed by two months of doing nothing, and then they get the motivation back to study hard again.
This cycle will get you nowhere. When I come into contact with advanced speakers, they all seem to share something in common: they do things they love in English. For example, I’ve had a student who loved American rap and wrote his own music, another student whose dream is to become a motivational speaker, and a student who loved the English Premier League and spent all his spare time reading about it.
By doing the things you love, learning English won’t feel like studying at all. Be curious, find interesting things to do, and don’t worry too much about understanding everything.
These are small but necessary changes to make if you want to finally become fluent in English.
Who do you know who is trying to become fluent in English? Do them a favor and send them this guide so they can improve their English skills. Share it using the social media buttons.
Jack Askew is an English language coach and helps intermediate speakers reach an advanced level. He has taught online for the past seven years and also spent two years teaching in Spain. You can learn more about him at JDAEnglish.com. If you loved what Jack had to say, check him out.