To become fluent in English, you need to practice it regularly and consistently for a long period of time.
Immersion is one of the most effective ways to become fluent in English. This is because when you are immersed in a language you are forced to use and practice it consistently. The longer and more intensively you immerse yourself in a language, the easier it will be to become fluent.
Perhaps the easiest way to get an immersive experience in English is to move to an English-speaking country. But that’s expensive and not practical for many of us.
You also might choose to get an immersive experience by taking a language class at a school. This can work for some people, but there are also lots of reasons you shouldn’t learn English in a classroom. It’s expensive, it can be boring, and you might not learn effectively. And even with immersive classes, you are only in an ‘immersive’ environment for a few hours a week.
Instead, you can build your own English immersion course at home. It’s actually a lot easier than you might think. In this article, we explain how to create an English immersion course for yourself using only resources you can find online.
Principles for an English Immersion course
There are a few principles that you should keep in mind when you are creating your English immersion programme.
Choose activities that are appropriate for your level.
If you’re a beginner, focus on building your vocabulary and basic grammar. You can use spaced repetition to help you learn the most common words in English. While it’s a mistake to only focus on grammar, especially at an intermediate level, it is useful for beginners to understand the basics.
If you’re a learner with an intermediate level of English, you should choose a range of activities. The activities should be challenging, but not so difficult that you get discouraged from practicing on a regular basis.
If you’re at an advanced level, you should practice by doing activities that use high-level English texts created by native speakers.
Include all four skills.
The four language skills we use are listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Contrary to what some people believe, these are actually interrelated: when you practice one, you do improve your skill in each of the others.
But to get really good at each of the skills, you need to practice each one individually. So when you’re building your immersion programme, ensure that you include at least one activity for each skill. We’ve included activity ideas below.
Build your course around what you are interested in.
We’ve said this before, but it’s important: if you aren’t enjoying learning English, you won’t stick with it, and you won’t become fluent. That’s why Leonardo English makes sure all our podcasts are actually interesting. Make sure you’re choosing English activities that you like and are interested in.
Build your course around what you already do.
One of the things that keep people back from becoming fluent in English is that it requires a lot of time. You really do have to practice it a lot to get good at it. It is difficult for some people to find an extra hour or two every day to learn English.
But you can actually learn English without adding any more time to your day. How? Simply take the things you already do and do them in English. If you already listen to podcasts on your way to work, simply switch to listening to podcasts in English. If you already watch Netflix, simply start watching it in English (without subtitles or with English subtitles). If you already spend time on Instagram, start following English-speakers. If you already read for an hour each evening, switch to reading English books or articles.
You can learn English without needing that much extra time. You just need to build it into the activities you already do.
It might feel strange at the start, and of course it won’t feel as easy and familiar as doing these activities in your mother tongue, but it’s a great way to improve your English while not making huge changes to your normal routine.
How To Make An English Immersion Course
Okay, so let’s actually start building the course.
1. Take an online English exam
I really encourage you to find out your level before you start a course. This will help you get a baseline to see what your level is so you can choose appropriate activities to start. It will also help you see how much you’re progressing, which keeps you motivated.
There are many free online English tests. Some are better than others and none are perfect; they typically don’t test your listening, speaking, or writing skills. Still, they can be helpful to give you a rough idea of where you are. Take a few, and then take the average level to get a sense of your level now.
2. Set a goal
Now that you roughly know your level, set a goal for yourself. Think about the level you want to achieve and what you want it for. Make your goal specific and measurable.
For example, maybe your goal is, “I want to be able to have a conversation with strangers in a group social setting by August.” Or, maybe it is, “I want to be able to give a presentation at work in English and answer questions by July.” Or even, “I want to be at the B2 level for all skills by New Year.”
Thinking about what exactly you want to accomplish will help you continue when it gets hard. Keeping motivated is easier said than done, but losing your motivation by not remembering your goals is one of the most common mistakes people make when learning English.
3. Choose Immersion strategies for each skill
Now, choose at least one immersion strategy for each of the four skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. I’ve included some ideas for you below, but feel free to get creative. The more you use, the better.
There are lots of ways that you can listen to native speakers.
- Podcasts. We love podcasts here at Leonardo English - they are one of the most effective ways to improve your English listening. Podcasts were essential for helping me get from an A2 to a B2 in French. They’ve also been really helpful for me to learn Portuguese. Find a podcast that you like at your level and listen in. Ideally, try to listen and learn actively to the podcast. But listening on your commute to work is a good way of fitting your listening into your schedule.
- Radio. Radio can be just as good as podcasts (if you don’t mind the adverts). Tune In is a service that can connect you with a huge variety of radio shows in many languages, including English. Listen to your sports, news, or music shows there. Other good options are BBC Radio (United Kingdom), CBC Radio (Canada), ABC Radio (Australia) or NPR (United States).
- YouTube. YouTube can be really great for practicing listening too. Just make sure you’re interested in the topic. We don’t necessarily recommend watching videos about English since we find these can be boring, and they often don’t use real English. Instead, try TED talks or videos about things that you are actually interested in.
- Netflix. Watching TV can be great for learning a language. I even knew someone who claimed they learned Portuguese entirely from telenovelas. We recommend turning the subtitles to English or even watching without them. If you do use subtitles, be careful to not rely on the m. You might not understand everything at first, but you’ll learn faster.
Speaking can be one of the hardest skills to practice since it requires a speaking partner who knows English. But there really are lots of options for finding someone to speak with.
- Make online friends. We’re increasingly connected. Take advantage of this by finding native English speakers to chat with. There are a lot of online services that match people together for chatting. Some examples are Conversation Exchange, Italki, and Tandem.
- Start a conversation club. Chances are there are other people in your life that speak English. Organise a time for your friends or work colleagues to come together to practice.
- Meet up. If you live in a city, chances are there are other people who want to practice English. Find them. Meet up is a great resource to find free or very cheap English conversation groups in most large cities around the world.
- Date online. Single? Consider online dating. I have a friend in Brazil that set her Tinder profile to Sweden just for fun. She met a Norwegian guy and they have been chatting a lot. This may not be a great strategy to actually date someone, but it has been great for her English! If you’re spending time on online dating apps anyways, this is a great way to meet native speakers and have a conversation with them. (And if you end up getting married, feel free to mention Leonardo English at your wedding!)
- Practice “Shadowing”. Shadowing is a technique where you speak along with an audio as you’re listening to it. You are like a “shadow” in that you speak a bit after the audio. This helps you practice the pronunciation as well as the musicality and the rhythm of English. Practicing shadowing will get you to sound more fluent and als help you feel more confident. If you’re at an advanced level, you can just follow along with a podcast like this one on The Dutch Tulip Bubble. If you’re a bit lower level, follow along with the transcripts to help you.
- Start a podcast. Yes, it might sound mad, but we got an email the other day from an amazing young man in Switzerland who is learning English and started his own English podcast to hold himself accountable and track his progress. Daniel, if you’re reading this—you rock.
Reading is easy to build into your immersion course. Here are a few possible strategies.
- Change your phone’s language settings. This is a great strategy for building English into your daily life since you look at your phone many times a day. It’s easy to change the settings and you’ll automatically start using English regularly. You can do this on your computer too using Google Translate for websites. A google translate browser extension can do this automatically.
- Read articles and the news. There’s lots of interesting stuff to read on the net. Medium is a great resource for interesting, unique articles. Or, catch up on the news in countries you’re interested in: the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Australia, or New Zealand. If the news is a bit too complicated for your level, try Breaking News English or the BBC’s News Report for English learners. The Leonardo English blog always has new and interesting articles specifically about language learning as well.
- Get English email. Here’s another option: subscribe to newsletters and stories from English authors. Emails are short and usually use simple language. Best of all, you don’t have to go looking for content. Subscribe to newsletters from authors you like or browse collections on substack and other sites.
- Read your favourite books in English. Make sure you choose a book you’ll love to read. I’m reading Harry Potter in Portuguese and it has really improved my grammar and vocabulary. But it would be frustrating if I didn’t love the story. Choose a book you like. If you struggle with ‘adult’ English books, consider starting with children’s books.
Lots of language learners overlook writing, but it’s a great way to practice. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some ideas.
- Keep a journal. A journal is a personal record of your experiences. You can keep a journal by writing down things you’ve learned, things you have done, or things that you are grateful for. Journaling is a great exercise for a lot of reasons, but it can be especially effective for providing regular writing practice. You don’t have to spend a long time doing it—even 10 minutes a day is helpful.
- Write postcards. Have friends in other countries? Write postcards to them in English.
- Email Leonardo English. We love hearing from listeners of English Learning for Curious Minds. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org—we read and respond to every email :)
- Comment on posts. You’re probably already on social media. If you’re checking out someone’s Instagram, write a post. Don’t worry about making mistakes—even native English speakers often don’t use perfect grammar on social media. Why not start with our Instagram?
- Join an English WhatsApp group. There are lots of them. If you already use WhatsApp, this would be a convenient way to practice writing in English. And if you make friends, then ask them to practice speaking with you!
4. Plan when you will do your activities.
This is the most important part of your course: setting a time to actually do the activities. Learning English is not complicated, but it requires patience and time. To be effective, you should engage in immersion activities on most days. Aim for doing something every day or every weekday.
For example, you might plan to listen to podcasts for one hour every day on your commute to work and then read an article for 30 minutes while you’re on the treadmill at the gym. Write this down so that you can hold yourself accountable.
Stay consistent with your plan so that you create a habit. By making it a habit, you’ll find it easier to do and you’ll see the best results.
5. Re-evaluate regularly.
Take time to re-evaluate your progress as you go. As you improve—and you will—make sure you adjust your activities so that you continue to do things you like and that they remain at your level.
Remember active versus passive learning. While it’s great to listen to podcasts while you’re doing the dishes, it’s even better to sit down and focus on them, read a transcript, and learn the key vocabulary. Active learning is much more effective than passive learning. Passively listening to podcasts is good, but try to engage actively with the material as much as possible.
Do you have any other ideas? Know of other great resources that have helped you on your personal language journey? Share your thoughts in the comments below.