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Learning a foreign language implies immersing yourself in another culture, exploring different perceptions and values, etc. While spending time in an English-speaking country might be the best way to go about this, there is a huge number of other things you can do to get ahead. In no particular order, here are some suggestions on how to practice your English with or without leaving your home country:

  • Rent or buy DVDs: Watching DVDs is more productive than watching videos or TV because you can use English and Czech subtitles. You can watch the same movie several times going back and forth, ultimately switching off the subtitles altogether.

  • Get on the web: Find web sites related to language learning or your main interests. If you love poetry, explore what the web has to offer. If you love cooking, you can find millions of recipes on the web. Many sites today come with sound too. Many have discussion forums where you can post your comments and/or exchange opinions on a specific subject. Avoid sites where you have to register and pay (sites with the /.org / suffix tend to offer free access; as do sites with the /.edu/ suffix, belonging to universities or other educational institutions).

  • Download music, learn the lyrics: If you love music, there is no better way to improve your English than by listening to songs, looking up the lyrics, and then learning the lyrics off by heart. While some texts may be nonsensical, there is a lot out there worth listening to and singing along with (Coldplay, Robbie Williams...). You may also look up the artists of the seventies and the eighties. Identify lyrics that are easy to follow and make some sense (Elton John, the Beatles, George Michael, Queen, etc.).

  • Register your e-mail box with an English-language provider: Yahoo, Google and MSN, to name just a few, will let you have an e-mail box for free. As part of the service, you will also get a huge array of other features, including the option to start your own web log. There is Yahoo News, Yahoo Voice (free or discounted calls) and Yahoo Questions and Answers. Google may be best known as the world's largest search engine, but it also offers an automatically updated news service and an endless gallery of images.

  • Discover Wikipedia: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can read and edit. Started in 2001, it is currently the largest reference web site, its content being written collaboratively by people from around the planet. Wikipedia is an excellent resource for starting any research project. Its English address is

  • Read anything and everything: Though it may be obvious, reading is still the best way to improve your vocabulary. If you have never read a complete book in English, you may want to start with Penguin Readers (simplified texts of well-known book titles). This series comes in seven different levels ending with Advanced (3 000 words). Other options: Time and Newsweek magazines, the weekly Prague Post, and online sites of many international daily newspapers.

  • Travel alone: If you are able to finance a trip abroad, try traveling alone. While this may imply less fun and more effort to begin with, it should ultimately be more rewarding and useful. Apart from the UK and Ireland, consider countries such as Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, where English is spoken as a second language. If you dislike traveling alone, try to locate English-speaking traveling companions.

  • Volunteer: Though it may be more attractive to work for money, you could find friendlier co-workers and more respect as a volunteer. There are many organizations that will arrange safe postings abroad. You will receive free accommodation and board, but will have to bring your own pocket money. The long-term benefit of being able to practice your English in a stress-free environment could outweigh your financial burden.

  • Listen to the radio: Nowadays you can listen to hundreds of radio stations online. If you have any suggestions in this respect, please let us know:

  • Look for pen pals: Worldwide, there are about 1.3-1.5 billion speakers of English as a Second Language and you are one of them. Via the Internet, try to find a pen pal in this group of people. Corresponding with someone from Mexico or Korea might be good fun, helping you hone your writing skills into the bargain.


Written by Regina Helal for the English Department, Pedagogical Faculty, South Bohemia University, November 2006,



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