Lots of us are spending more time than we normally do at home. It’s not ideal, but one of the upsides is that you might have some additional time to spend learning English. If you’re trying to make the most out of your home time, we’re here to help.
In this post, we’re sharing some of our best tips and our favourite 12 ways to learn English from home.
Tips for Studying From Home
Not making goals is one of the most common mistakes people make when they learn English. Goals help you stay focused on what is important to you. They’re also motivating. Setting goals for yourself will help you stay committed to learning English.
Design your study programme.
It’s not hard to create an English Immersion course for yourself. Personalised immersion courses can help you stay organised and committed to your learning. They can help you make sure you’re doing activities to practice all your skills. To learn English from home effectively, start by making a plan.
Set aside time.
We all procrastinate. If we don’t make time for the things we want to do, it often doesn’t happen. I recommend setting aside some time to practice English every day. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but make sure you’re consistent. Ideally, you can build some English into your daily routine.
Try not to multitask.
I love to listen to podcasts and do the dishes at the same time—the convenience of podcasts is one of my favourite things about them. But the most effective way to learn is by actively learning: by sitting down, concentrating, and processing the language. When possible, try not to multitask while you learn English.
Why Learn English at Home
There are lots of reasons, besides being able to make yourself a cup of tea whenever you like, that learning from English from home is great. Here are just a few.
Nothing is more convenient than studying at home. Study on your couch, take a break when you want, and make yourself a sandwich if you get hungry. Just don’t get so comfy that you start to doze off!
It’s great to invest in English learning tools and resources that work for you. But the investment doesn’t have to be huge. While English classes can be good, there are several reasons they’re not always the best choice. And they’re expensive! Studying from home can be much less expensive than English classes.
Studying at home is efficient; you don’t waste time commuting. You don’t even have to get out of bed!
While travelling abroad to learn English is great, it’s also not practical for many people. But you don’t need to travel to get immersed in English—you can do it right from your home. Studying from home gives you the flexibility to choose how to learn and to immerse yourself in English.
So learning from home is ideal. But how do you do it?
Without further ado, here are 11 simple and inexpensive ways to learn English from home.
It’s first on the list because it’s our favourite. We love podcasts for learning English. We think that they’re the best thing since sliced bread. Ours is particularly good if you’re interested in learning about interesting topics at the same time as you learn new vocabulary.
Podcasts are convenient, you can listen anywhere. They also help you improve not just your listening skills, but also your speaking skills. Listen to any subject you’re curious about and you’ll pick up the English while learning something new.
Podcasts may not be ideal for the very beginners; you have to have a basic level for them to be useful. We call this the zone of proximal development: you want to find tasks that are challenging but not too difficult. Some podcasts may be too difficult for those who are still quite new to English.
Find podcasts that are right for your level and that you find interesting. We think you’ll especially like the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by your friends here at Leonardo English. It’s for people like you who are interested in how the world works and who also want to get better at English.
Want to boost your learning? Become a member and get access to exclusive content, transcripts, key vocabulary, Q&A sessions with the team, and more.
I learned Spanish in high school from a textbook that I absolutely loved. It was colourful and fun and the little dialogues were very engaging. When I was learning French a few years ago, I downloaded a textbook online to see if it would work for me. It didn’t; I found it dense and boring. Textbooks can be useful, it just depends on the book and what works for you.
You can find textbooks online. Or, you can order paper copies from your favourite book seller. Make sure you look at the reviews to see what people say about it so that you can more easily find a good one.
The great thing about textbooks is that they usually explain the basics really well. They also give you a learning structure, so you can progress through a language in a methodical, comprehensive way. For more advanced learners, they can be a great reference for more complicated grammar.
They're usually not super interesting. I found that no matter how disciplined I tried to be, I rarely actually got past a few pages in a text book. Many of them also don't allow you to effectively practice speaking or listening.
Textbooks can be useful to beginners. Use them to learn the present tense and basic vocabulary. After that, focus on other, more interesting and engaging methods. Keep them mostly just to use for occasionally checking grammar points.
3. Hire a tutor
There are lots of people offering to teach English online. You've probably seen them advertising on Instagram or on popular sites like Cambly, Preply, and iTalki. Hiring a tutor can be a good way to learn English from home.
Hiring a tutor or English teacher can be really great. It gives you access to native speakers. Some of them may even be certified to teach English. Even those that aren't certified teachers will give you the opportunity to engage in real conversation in English. This is often also much cheaper than taking English classes through a school.
You can't really be sure of the quality of the person that you're going to get. While the tutor companies usually do have an interview process, it’s often not very thorough. Another disadvantage is that, unless you have the same person each time, you may not be able to progress in a linear way. And, at a beginner level, teachers may struggle to teach you if they do not also speak your language.
Finally, really effective tutors can also be really expensive. It might be worth the expense, but just keep that in mind, especially if you’re planning on learning English for several years.
Tutors are probably going to be most worth it at the intermediate level. Try out a few to make sure you can find one you like.
I also don't recommend you only take lessons. Complement this strategy with some others to make your learning happen faster.
4. Take an online class
There are lots of resources online to learn a language through a course for free or for cheap. Some that I am aware of include Open Culture, edX, Online Courses, Class Central, Effective Language Learning, and Loecsen.
These can be really useful for giving you a place to start if you’re not sure how to go about designing your own English course.
The options are generally mostly focused on language for beginners. They may not be super useful for you if you are at an intermediate level. It’s also not clear whether they are designed by language experts. Some are, but others aren’t.
Have a look and find some that you think could be useful to you. You can use these as a guide and complement them with resources from other sources.
5. Read Books
Reading is one of the most underestimated ways of improving your English, whatever your level. This isn’t just my opinion, it’s also that of one of the most famous linguists in the world, Stephen Krashen.
Reading can be a powerful way to acquire grammar and expand your vocabulary. When you read on your computer, you can also find programmes to read to you so you can listen at the same time.
The best thing about reading is that you can adapt it easily to any level simply by finding less challenging or more challenging books. You also have unlimited options online on a wide variety of topics. You can read anything you want!
Sometimes it can be difficult to continue to read if the text you choose is very challenging. It also may not do a lot to improve your speaking or listening skills.
Definitely include reading in your English learning programme. Just make sure you enjoy what you read. If you read something you like, you will continue even if it's challenging.
If you’re closer to a beginner, try children’s books.
If you’re at an intermediate level, try more challenging books that you’ve read before.
If you’re at an advanced level, you can read anything you like! Finally, make sure you complement your reading with listening and speaking activities.
6. Read the News
This is a great way to improve your English while you’re staying up-to-date on current affairs.
The news is always interesting and engaging. It’s also a great way to learn about other countries and cultures—just look for stories about them!
If you have already read the news in your mother tongue, then reading about the same story in English should mean that you have a bit of a headstart, and it’s easier to understand.
New stories are usually a bit more challenging if you aren’t aware of what they are about. You might not understand everything.
Choose something appropriate for your level. As a beginner, try Breaking News English. At an intermediate level, try shorter news stories. At advanced levels, go for longer, more complex articles and publications. I like the BBC, the CBC, or NPR for high-quality, free news.
7. Social media
Social media is a great way to learn English. And you probably already use it!
Social media is one of the few ways to learn English that lets you practice all your skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. You can read posts, write a response, listen to videos or audio, and speak in your own audio messages. The best part is, you typically see real, conversational English. There's also tonnes of fun content on social media out there, and something for everyone.
There is lots of slang on social media. Even I have trouble understanding everything and it's my native language. And even when the language is standard English, lots of the jokes or posts may refer to cultural anecdotes or current affairs. It might be frustrating to not understand posts, especially if you are at an advanced level.
It's easy to follow English accounts on your social media, so why not? But to make sure that you don't feel disappointed, follow some accounts that will use more formal language, like those of journalists, companies, or politicians. They are more likely to use standard English and not too many unknown references.
8. Language Apps
I honestly love Duolingo. It was especially useful for teaching me the basics in Portuguese. I haven't used Babbel, Busuu, Chatterbug, Mosalingua, or any of the others, but I’ve heard that they are useful too.
The repetition of words is really useful, especially for beginners. They can also make learning fun and keep you motivated. I’ve found Duolingo is great for vocabulary. Apps are also either free or affordable.
Duolingo doesn't use typical conversations. That makes it funny sometimes, but it might not be the best for really learning English. It's also not great for teaching grammar rules. While they do have a function where you practice speaking, I didn't find that super useful for really getting pronunciation.
Give these a shot, especially as a beginner. Vocabulary apps can be especially useful, and we’ve even written you a guide to help you easily make your own!
But, in my experience, it's difficult to get to an intermediate or advanced level using only apps. Try not to rely exclusively on them. I also don't recommend trying to get an app that does everything. In my opinion, it's better to pick services that do one thing and do that one thing well.
9. Watch TV
I know someone in Brazil that told me that she learned Portuguese entirely by watching soap operas or telenovelas. Television shows can be a great way to learn a language. We’ve even written a comprehensive blog about the relative advantages and disadvantages of Netflix vs. YouTube vs. Podcasts for learning English.
TV is engaging. It’s fun! There's no better excuse for binge-watching your favourite show than that you're learning English. The visual cues from television can also help you understand what's happening.
TV doesn't really let you learn actively, it's much more passive. It’s also usually aimed at native speakers. That’s great if you’re at an advanced level, but if you’re a little lower, you might have trouble following the story. There’s also some research that says, in the long run, watching lots of TV might lower your verbal skills. Yikes!
TV is not really ideal as a language learning tool. I don't suggest it as the primary way that you plan to learn English. But it's great as a supplement to other strategies!
The only thing is about subtitles: I really don't recommend using subtitles in your own language. The reason is that we're lazy. If you can just read the subtitles, you will, and you will end up not listening to the actual language.
Instead, try putting the subtitles in English. Or better yet, choose a TV show that you'd be happy watching even if you don't understand everything, and take off the subtitles. You might not understand everything at first, but it'll come. And you'll pick up the English much faster.
10. Chat Online
There are lots of chatrooms and forums online where you can find native speakers. Here are a few free or paid options I am aware of: My Language Exchange, Conversation Exchange, Speaky, Tandem, HiNative, Polyglot Club, and iTalki. I know a few advanced English speakers in Brazil that use this method as their way to get from advanced to fluent.
You can find native speakers to chat with. You can make friends while learning about another culture.
Sometimes the people you meet on chats are not that great. Some may even be a bit creepy. It can also sometimes be difficult to arrange a time that works for both of you.
Find people that you like through a reputable site. That will help you make sure you find people that really want to chat and help you stay away from creeps.
11. Start a Journal, Blog, or a Podcast
Journals and blogs are great ways to practice your writing. You can use them to record your daily experiences, your feelings, or interesting ideas that you have. Making a podcast is also a great way to practice your speaking.
They’re really easy to do and they can help you with your writing practice. Starting a blog can also be a good way to learn how to create a website.
We don’t see any! They may take some more time than other options, but it’s an investment.
Start a journal! Or even a podcast. We have one listener who started his own podcast in English to practice his speaking skills. He says it’s been a fun project and it’s really helped with his English speaking.
12. Video Games
I’ve said before that in Brazil, some of the people that speak the best English are gamers. Using video games can be a great way to acquire English by using it to solve problems.
Video games are fun and it’s easy to spend lots of time playing them.
It can be expensive to buy video games, especially if you don’t already have a console.
It may not be worth buying a gaming console just to learn English, but if you already spend a lot of time gaming, this could be a good option for you. Just remember to set the language to English!
Bonus #1: Go to Meetups in your city
This isn’t really learning English at home but it’s still a great option. You can often find a MeetUp for English at the library or a bar down the street! I've used it to find conversation clubs in a number of cities that I've lived in: Vancouver, Glasgow, Bordeaux, and Toulouse. There's probably one in your city as well. Try finding a group and going to a meeting—but only if you’re not in lockdown.
There's no better way to learn to speak in conversation than to actually speak in conversation. At meetups, you'll get lots of speaking practice. You might even make new friends!
If you’re not in an English-speaking country, you may not find native speakers in the group. But that’s okay, you can speak to other English learners, you’ll still improve.
Have a look and see if there is an English conversation group in your city. Try it out at least once to see if it’s for you. It may not be something you do every week, but it can be a good break from the rest of your English programme.
Bonus #2: Do a language exchange abroad
Yes, this certainly isn't 'from home', but if you really want to improve your English and explore another culture, then it's certainly worth thinking about doing a language exchange in an English-speaking country. This can be in the UK, Ireland, the US, Canada, or any other English speaking country - the important thing is that it is immersive.
It's the complete opposite of learning English from the sofa, but for some people the kick up the backside (and being put in a completely immersive environment) is exactly what they need.
If you're in an English-speaking country, it's hard to avoid speaking English. If you struggle with motivation, and have the time and financial resources to do a language exchange, it's certainly an option worth considering.
While learning English from home doesn't require much time and is either free or very affordable, doing a language exchange requires you to move to another country for a period of normally several months. Plus, it's certainly not free - you need to factor in the cost of the programme, plus flights, accommodation, and living expenses.
Take your time and think about whether this is for you. It's a big commitment, but can be a fantastic experience that will allow you to learn much more than English - you'll meet new friends, learn about new cultures, and improve your English along the way. We'd recommend checking out the EF Education First programmes, but there are lots of different options to suit all needs and budgets.
Learning English should be fun. And it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. The core principle is that you should do what is interesting to you. If you like video games, then play video games. If you like listening to podcasts, then listen to podcasts. If you love scrolling through social media, then scroll through social media. Do what you like, just do it in English.
Most English activities are easily done at home. And you don't have to choose just one option. Mix and match, experiment, try things out. If you consistently engage with English over a long period of time, you’ll eventually get fluent.