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How to Learn English on Your Own

How to learn English on your own

Learning a language like English can be very difficult. To learn it by yourself must be even more difficult.

But what if there was an easy way that you could learn English on your own?

Well, I have some good news for you, because I'll show a complete method to learn English. And I'll even teach you a little bit of English at the same time.

Applying the Method

The method that I will use to teach you how to learn English is the same one that I teach on this website. Here is what the method looks like:

Be Motivated to Learn English (Step 1)

Finding the motivation to learn English should not be difficult.

English is spoken in many places of the world. That makes it a very useful language to know if you want to communicate with people around the world.

Maybe you also need it for your work; English is very big in the business world, so maybe the country where you live does business with people in English.

Also, the Internet contains a very big amount of information in English. If you don't understand English, you are missing out on a lot of information.

Needless to say, learning English is surely not a waste of your time.

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Know Which English to Learn (Step 2)

Map of countries where a significant quantity of people speak English
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(Countries where a significant quantity of people speak English)

Here are the major categories of English:

Before you start learning English, you should determine which "English" you should learn.

North American English includes Canadian English and American English.

Irish English and British English are a part of the British Isles English category.

Australian English and New Zealand English are both in the Australasia English category.

All of these have their own categories. For example, American English includes Southern American English, Midwestern English, New York City English, Standard American English and so on.

Standard American English

Standard American English

To keep things short and for practical reasons, the "English" I will talk about on this page is Standard American English. It is the variety of American English that is considered a "standard" in America by some people. However, in reality, each region in the USA has its own variety.

Please do not confuse Standard American English with American English. Contrary to popular belief, American English does not have only one pronunciation, it is a set of varieties of English which includes Standard American English:

American English varieties
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Sadly, on the Internet, there are a lot of websites which talk about the "American English pronunciation". But, in reality, it is not true.

It is pointless to talk about the "American English pronunciation" because American English is a group of varieties, as you can see on the image above; it includes a lot of different pronunciations.

If we want to talk about American English correctly, we need to talk about New York English, African American English, Texan English and so on.

So, be careful not to fall into that trap.

Let's now talk about Standard American English.

Here is what it sounds like:

Sometimes, you can hear Standard American English in the news, on TV Shows and in movies. But it is possible that the person speaking it speaks it with his/her regional accent.

Also, anywhere in the USA, you can find Americans who speak Standard American English.

Standard American English is useful to learn because it's the English that Americans use (if they know how to use it of course) when they want to be understood by other people who don't speak or understand their variety of English.

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Speak English Without an Accent (Optional)

Standard American English phonetics

Here, I will teach you some of the main things you need to know to be able to speak Standard American English without an accent.

If you don't care about pronunciation, you can go to the next step: Find English-speaking partners.

Also, before you read this section about pronunciation, it is best to know a little bit about the International Phonetic Alphabet.

If you don't know it, you can learn about it here.

The Vowels of Standard American English

Standard American English vowel diagram
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Standard American English has many diphthongs. A diphthong is a combination of two vowels, one directly after the other. These vowels are in bold in the example below:


mice  [ˈms]
🔊 listen

boat  [ˈbt]
🔊 listen


The Distinction Between [] and [ɪ]

Standard American English i and I
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There is one thing that I hear a lot from people who are not native speakers of English: They can't tell the difference between the long [] sound and the short one [ɪ].

These sounds are found in words like beach and b*tch.

Often, I hear people say the word beach and it sounds like b*tch. This may be a problem, as you can imagine.

Another pair of words to illustrate this is reach and rich.

The ea in reach is a long []. To make it, you must place your tongue closer to the front of the mouth and you must open your mouth less.

long i in English

The i in rich is a short [ɪ] and, to make it, you must place your tongue farther from the front of the mouth and you must open your mouth more than for [].

short i in English

Here you can hear the difference:


reach  [ˈrʷ]
🔊 listen

rich  [ˈrʷɪ]
🔊 listen


The [ə] in Unstressed Syllables

schwa in unstressed syllables
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A vowel that is in an unstressed syllable that comes before a stressed syllable, is often a [ə] (called a schwa) or a sound that is close to it, when talking at a normal speed.

In the following examples, notice that the [ə] is present before a stressed syllable (syllables are separated by a period):


occasion  [ə.ˈkʰeɪ.ʒən]
🔊 listen

array  [ɚ.ˈeɪ]
🔊 listen


Notice the symbol [ɚ] in the transcription for array. It is a combination of schwa [ə] and the Standard American English R [ɹ], which we will talk about later.

Nasal Vowels in Standard American English

nasalization in English

When there is a vowel before an N in a stressed syllable, this vowel may be nasalized. Here is how to nasalize a vowel: pronounce the vowel and let air come out of your nose at the same time.

When a vowel is nasalized, it has the symbol [˜] above it, as you can see below:


can  [ˈkʰæ̃ːn]
🔊 listen

boron  [ˈbɔː.ɹɑ̃ːn]
🔊 listen


Consonants of Standard American English

Standard American English consonant chart
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Standard American English has a lot of consonants in common with other languages.

Some consonants are not quite the same, however, and these are the ones that we will focus on.

The "dark" L

First, the L in Standard American English might not be the same as the L in your native language.

Especially at the end of a syllable, the L is pronounced quite differently than you might expect. Standard American English has what is sometimes referred to as the "dark" L.

Here is the regular L, that you may be used to:

Regular L

And here is the "dark" L:

The dark L

In order to pronounce the "dark" L, place the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth, as you can see in the image above. Then, apply a slight pressure there with the tongue so that the whole surface area of the tip of the tongue is gently squished against that area.

If you feel the back of your tongue raise itself, you probably got it! Then, try to make it sound like in these words:


bell  [ˈbɛɫ]
🔊 listen

feel  [ˈfiːɫ]
🔊 listen

pal  [ˈpʰæɫ]
🔊 listen


When there's an L at the beginning of a syllable, it tends to be pronounced as a "dark" L as well, in Standard American English.

In the following examples, I am also pronouncing it as a "dark" L at the onset of the syllable:


like  [ˈɫaɪk]
🔊 listen

clear  [ˈkʰɫɪɚ]
🔊 listen


Aspiration in English

Aspiration in English
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Consonants like T, P and K, (unlike D, B and G) are pronounced with a slight aspiration when they are pronounced before vowels and in a stressed syllable.

Aspiration means that additional air is pushed out and the burst of air is stronger when these consonants are pronounced.

This aspiration is indicated by the symbol [ʰ].

Here are a few examples:


Tom  [ˈtʰɑ̃ːm]
🔊 listen

pill  [ˈpʰɪɫ]
🔊 listen


The D and the B in these two words do not have this aspiration:


Dom  [ˈdɑ̃ːm]
🔊 listen

Bill  [ˈbɪɫ]
🔊 listen


That is because D and B are voiced. Only voiceless consonants (like T, P and K) have aspiration.

T, P and K are not pronounced with aspiration, however, when they come after an S within a syllable.

Here is an example:


spill  [ˈspɪɫ]
🔊 listen


The Standard American English R

The R in Standard American English can be a little difficult to pronounce if it is not present in your native language.

To pronounce it, place the tip of your tongue very near the palate, but do not touch it.

This is how it should look like in your mouth:

R in English
(Source: http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/courses/plin/plin2108/week5.php)

Now, remember that this R is an approximant. It means that the air flows smoothly through the point of articulation as you pronounce it. This is why the tongue should not touch the palate.

Maybe you will not get it the first time, but, with practice, you should get it.

Try to make it sound like in these two words:


arrow  [ˈɛɹ.oʊ]
🔊 listen

red  [ˈɹʷɛd]
🔊 listen


Also, notice the symbol [ʷ] in the phonetic transcription of the word red. This symbol means that the lips are rounded:

rounded lips

In Standard American English, when you pronounce an R followed by a vowel (in a syllable), like reach and raft, you must round your lips.

The Flap

The flap in English is often found in words with double T's and double D's like letter and rudder.

It is represented by the character [ɾ]. To do a flap, produce one brief burst (by accumulating air pressure) at the alveolar ridge (between the front teeth and the palate).

Try to do it like in that short video:

This sound is also present in Spanish; it is represented by R in a word like pero. But be careful because Spanish also has the trilled R, which is not found in Standard American English.

Note that words like ladder and latter are pronounced in exactly the same way in Standard American English, namely, with the flap.

Here you can hear two examples of words that have the flap:


latter  [ˈɫæ.ɾɚ]
🔊 listen

butter  [ˈbʌ.ɾɚ]
🔊 listen


A Quick Word About Intonation

intonation in English

Remember that intonation is very important in Standard American English if you want to sound like a native speaker. Also, it sometimes carries critical information.

Fortunately, intonation is much easier to articulate compared to vowels and consonants since you basically just need to use your vocal cords to produce different intonations.

However, it can be difficult to always use the correct intonation when you speak. So, pay attention to them when you listen to native speakers of Standard American English. Notice which intonation is used in what situation and try to reproduce it when you speak.

Find Native Speakers of English (Step 3)

Find English speaking partners

There are a lot of Standard American English speakers, whether it is on dating websites, on language exchange websites or in games.

There is one thing you should be careful with if you want to learn how to speak Standard American English: try to find people in America who are native English speakers. If the people you find are fluent and not native, then I would keep searching, if I were you.

I am saying this because there are a lot of English speakers in the US who are not native speakers of English (many have Spanish as a first language).

Dating (For ADULTS only) and Language Exchange Websites/Apps

Dating and language exchange websites

On dating and language exchange websites, you should be able to search for partners who live in a specific city.

Remember that you can find people who speak something very close to Standard American English in any American city, but here is one area where you have a better chance at finding people that have an accent that is not too "strong":

The following part of the Northeastern United States: Eastern Pennsylvania, upstate New York (I'd avoid Philadelphia, New York City and anything east of it, though). Although, you should be okay with Northern Vermont as well.

Areas without too much of an accent in America

Ask your partners if they can speak without an "accent". If they don't understand what you mean, tell them to speak English like you don't come from anywhere in particular in America. Also, tell them that it's the kind of English they tend to speak on CNN.

However, if pronunciation is not too important to you, there are a lot of people who are fluent in English in the US, so it should be very easy to find some people to practice with.

Make English Easier by Learning About It (Step 4)

Languages Related to English

English language tree
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English (and that includes Standard American English) is a West Germanic language, so it is very much related to other West Germanic languages like Dutch and German.

It is also related to Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, which are also Germanic languages. So, if you already speak a Germanic language, it should be easier for you to learn Standard American English.

English is related to most European languages too, but not as much. So, if you speak a European language, it will generally be easier for you to learn Standard American English than if you did not.

Also, in the past, English has borrowed long list of words from French.

english words of french origin
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So, English vocabulary is related to French, and, for this reason, speakers of French might be able to learn Standard American English words more easily than speakers of other non-Germanic European languages.

Finally, English is also an Indo-European language. So, speakers of Indo-European languages should be able to learn Standard American English more easily than speakers of non-Indo-European languages.

Features of English

Word structure in Standard American English is not complex; there is very little conjugation, no grammatical cases except for a few words and no lexical tones.

However, there are many sentence constructions in Standard American English which can be difficult to use correctly. Also, the word order is very strict.

Verb Conjugation in Standard American English

English simple past tense
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The simple past tense of most of the verbs is formed with the -ed ending (like talked and touched). But there are some verbs in Standard American English that do not follow the general rule.

These are verbs like put (past tense: put), freeze (past tense: froze), hide (past tense: hid) and swim (past tense: swam), for example.

These are often called irregular verbs, or strong verbs. By practicing English, you will eventually learn them.

In the present tense, the only person where the verb (a regular one) has a different form is the third person: He, She and It (it has the -s or -es ending like in talks and touches).

English present tense
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Because of the poor verb structure, pronouns (I, you, he/she/it, we, you and they) always need to be used in English, except when using the imperative form (when giving someone an order), the infinitive and in a few other cases.

Comparative and Superlative

The form of the comparative (higher, smaller, more beautiful, etc.) in English depends on the number of syllables that the adjective has.

If the adjective has just 1 syllable, you can generally say it with the -er ending. So, you say taller than and not more tall than, for example.

If there are 2 syllables in an adjective, in most cases you can choose to say it with either the -er ending or by adding the word more before it. In other cases you most say with without an ending and precede it with the word more. This generally depends on the ending of the adjective.

The comparative form of the adjective happy (-y ending) is happier (than) or more happy (than).

But, for adjectives such as painless (-ess ending), what you need to say is more painless (than) and not painlesser (than).

Finally, if there are 3 syllables such as in the adjective beautiful, the comparative is of the form more beautiful (than) and not beautifuler (than).

comparative and superlative general rule in English
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The superlative in Standard American English (fastest, tallest, most beautiful, etc.) works in a very similar way. The only difference is that the word most is used instead of more and the ending is -est instead of -er.

There are exceptions, of course, like the adjectives good and bad, which have an irregular form: the comparative of good is better and its superlative is best. And the comparative of bad is worse and its superlative is worst.

Phrasal Verbs

phrasal verbs in English
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Standard American English has something called phrasal verbs. These are verbs that are made of two parts.

Sometimes the two parts can be separated and sometimes they cannot.

Our first example will be the verb to make out 'to kiss and caress'.

The parts make and out CANNOT be separated from one another; they work as a unit. You can say we made out in the car, but you cannot say we made in the car out.

The second example shows a phrasal verb where the two parts CAN be separated: the verb to make up 'to invent something' can be used in both ways. You can say I made up a story as well as I made a story up.

There are many phrasal verbs in Standard American English. So, to memorize a big list of them would not help. Instead, allow your brain to absorb them as you learn English.

Stress

Lexical stress in English
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Stress is important because, sometimes, it is used to distinguish between two different words. In the following example, the verb record and the noun record might have been pronounced the same way, if the stress was on the same syllable in both words:


record (verb):

Every day, I record a song. In this sentence, the stress in record is on the last syllable cord.

[.ɹʷəˈkʰɔːɹd]
🔊 listen


record (noun):

I have no record of what you said. In this sentence, the stress in record is on the first syllable re.

[ˈɹʷɛ.kɚd]
🔊 listen


There are several other examples like this one in Standard American English. Others that I can think of are permit, object and invite.

Immerse Yourself in English (Step 5)

You probably already know that our main tool to communicate in Standard American English (at the beginning), Google Translate, is available in English. The audio in Standard American English is also available on both translate.google.com and translate.google.ca.

Google Translate logo

Also, most of the operating systems are available in English.

You can easily find a copy of Windows or Mac OS in US English and you can change the language of your android, iOS or other mobile device to US English.

If you want to watch movies with subtitles, you should be able to find most movies with Standard American English subtitles. However, to find a movie with subtitles in your native language might be more difficult.

Conclusion

To conclude, it is not necessarily easy to learn Standard American English. This is especially true if your native language is unrelated to Standard American English and it doesn't share most of its features with it.

However, use the method on this website carefully and you will have a great chance at success.

Also, don't forget about this page when you practice Standard American English and you will learn more efficiently how to speak like an American.

You can come back here while learning Standard American English as I will keep this page up to date.

Good luck!