There's little doubt about the global influence of the English language. One only needs to walk into a bookstore, or study the movie schedule to see the abundance of English language films and literature in comparison to other languages.
And, with the internet, accessibility has never been easier.
Everything, from classics, such as Lord of the Rings and Wuthering Heights to contemporary writing, like the Harry Potter series, is devoured and studied by students learning English in Australian and international education systems alike.
And don't forget the music you're listening to on the radio (or, more likely, Spotify) — the singers and bands you'll be searching for will overwhelmingly be American, British or Australian: Cardi B, Ed Sheeran, AC/DC (just to name a couple).
That's all entertainment, you say, how exactly will it help me learn English?
Let's take a look.
Using Popular Literature to Learn English
Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.
~ Flora Lewis ~
Reading opens up new worlds, new ways of thinking and new ways of doing. It is like a free passport to another culture or another time.
Picking a genre you love to read will make it easier, but persevere — it will be worth the extra work.
- Go for a classic to expand your vocabulary and study grammar at its most perfect — Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson), Pride & Prejudice (Jane Austen)
- Contemporary books with believable characters, teaching you how people really speak — I've Got Your Number (Sophie Kinsella), Mr Mercedes (Stephen King)
- Young Adult stories are more simple to read and give subtle lessons about issues faced by current youth — Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (J.K. Rowling), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chobsky)
There is also some fabulous Australian literature that will help you not only learn English but learn Australian English and culture, including Aboriginal culture. Go to the Copyright Agency Reading Australia website to find out more about contemporary and popular, quality Australian literature for all levels. Or, look for work by Clare Harris (which come with teaching notes and activities).
A quick tip: watch out for obsolete vocabulary. Often found in classics, these are words that are no longer used, or have evolved to have a different meaning.
Another learning tip is to always have an English dictionary close-by as you're reading. Write down vocabulary or phrases you haven't seen before and look them up later. Use an audible dictionary to hear their pronunciation. Then make sure you try to use them in your own writing or when speaking English to friends.
There are plenty of sites where you can download a variety of books, both contemporary and classic, as well as audiobooks and other beginner, intermediate and advanced resources for free. Here are a few to get your basic library started:
- Project Gutenberg — over 60,000 free downloadable titles
- International Children's Digital Library — wide selection of high-quality, free books
- Librivox — large collection of free audiobooks for adults and children
- Free e-books.net — free books and audiobooks (5 per month)
Our final tip in this section is to start with books that you've either already read in your native tongue — or that have also been made into a movie. Familiarity with the plot can help you concentrate instead on grammar and vocabulary.
Watch Movies to Practise Listening to People Speaking English
Movies — three doses of language learning for the price of one!
- Listening practice: supported by the context of the scenery and actions, develop your listening fluency — without the subtitles.
- Reading practice: watch the movie in your native language but put the English subtitles on, turn the volume down a little and 'read' the movie.
- Speech practice: study how the actors move their mouths and listen out for specific tone, inflection and pronunciation as they speak, then imitate the same as you practise speaking English (in front of a mirror, or record yourself speaking and play it back).
As with literature, choose a genre that you enjoy watching so your time will be less like English lessons and more like free time. And — if you start with movies you've already seen in your language, then you can focus on the speaking and learning, rather than trying to work out what's going on.
- Pronunciation practice — In The King's Speech (2010), pronunciation is what it's all about as an Australian speech therapist (Australian pronunciation: tick) tries to help King George VI overcome his stammer in time to deliver a speech.
- Australian culture and slang — In Baz Luhrmann's Australia (2008), not only do you get to study a side of Australia many don't ever experience, the movie is great for tuning your ear to the Australian accent and picking up some Aussie slang in context.
While not interactive, the great thing about watching movies when you're learning English is that you can pause and replay to listen again to vocabulary, grammar patterns or pronunciation you didn't understand. Just make sure you write down your new vocabulary and expressions and then have a go at using them whenever you speak English.
There are a number of sites where you can (legally) download movies for free. The easiest is probably YouTube, but there are also great options with Kanopy and Open Culture. Netflix is also not overly expensive and there's always regular TV which you can record. Don't forget documentaries and news broadcasts either — they're both exceptional resources and often have clear pronunciation and accurate grammar.
Really Improve Your Listening Comprehension with Radio Broadcasts
Music tends to be what we automatically associate with the radio. Certainly, listening to music can help improve your English vocabulary and, if you sing along to your favourite songs, your pronunciation and speaking fluency will get better. If you don't know the lyrics, you can usually download them online — and then you have some reading practice as well.
However, the radio isn't all about music. If you're learning English, don't disregard the humble radio — it's one of the best resources you'll have free access to.
Start by downloading the free English Radio app — giving you access to radio stations in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and Singapore. Apart from listening to radio broadcasts, there's also a chatroom where you can connect and speak with other students who are learning English.
Behind the News, though aimed at primary school children, is nevertheless a great program to listen to for its focused English and current news events that matter to our young people. There is also a downloadable transcript you can read while you are listening, or beforehand for extra practice.
With all reports spoken at a 'normal' pace, Radio Australia focuses on human interest stories as well as the arts. As with Behind the News, a transcript is available for download.
The SBS and ABC news channels are perfect for listening practice and both also have websites with resources for English learners, including business English or if you want to learn how English will benefit your career.
Not radio, but just as worthwhile are the 'pop culture' status TV shows, like Dr Who and Friends that have been around forever and keep coming back. Dr Who is pretty much at icon status, being broadcast in over 50 countries, and in production for over 50 years. While pop culture gives great insight into current issues and modern language forms and expressions, it can be said that not all pop culture is equal and that shows like Dr Who are not known for their pure use of general English.
Make learning English easy by accessing different resources that are at your fingertips.
Online Learning Through English Podcasts
These days, earbuds are not so much a young person's fashion accessory as everybody's daily life necessity. While many people are listening to music, an equally large number are listening to podcasts — and there's a not so surprising number of podcasts designed specifically for people to learn English online.
The beauty of most podcasts is that they are free — and once you've downloaded them, you don't even need a wifi connection. The other wonderful thing about podcasts is that they are in bitesize chunks, anywhere from 5 minutes long to 40 minutes — perfect for your commute or exercise time.
The Slow English podcast is an Australian podcast that posts on Australian themes, with Australian presenters — ideal for the intermediate English learner.
As with the radio, the ABC and SBS both also have podcasts you can download for free, recapping key news or focusing specifically on English learning.
The benefits of listening to podcasts designed for non-native speakers of English include:
- attention to correct pronunciation and clear enunciation, making each segment easy to listen to, but challenging at the same time
- an occasional focus on specific grammar rules
- the opportunity to improve your vocabulary in context
- the ability to pause, go back and listen again ... and again if needed
- inclusion of study support materials, in some cases, and transcripts available to download.
From writing and reading skills, through to listening and speaking — the entertainment arts industry has a huge number of largely untapped print and online resources when you are learning English at any level from beginner to intermediate and well beyond. There's absolutely no reason why you can't have fun with English.