Sometimes it feels like the more you study, the less you remember. If you’re spending hours trying to memorise vocabulary, get to grips with complex grammar or decipher difficult texts, sooner or later your tired brain will tell you that need a break from studying.
There’s scientific research behind this phenomenon. To take just one example, this study at the University of Illinois found that taking even short breaks from a task will improve your performance. A change of focus can work wonders if you want to learn fluent English!
That said, taking a break from studying doesn’t mean you can’t keep learning English. The trick is to switch to activities that are fun, relaxing and expose you to the language in ways that don’t feel like hard work.
Not convinced? Then try out some of the fun ideas that we’ve listed below. If you make them part of your day-to-day life, your English language skills will improve in leaps and bounds – almost effortlessly.
1. Change your settings
Most of us spend hours daily using all sorts of electronic devices, from our phones and laptops to our game consoles and smart watches. So why not switch the settings on each device from your first language to English? When you start seeing alerts, reminders, notifications and other information in English, it’ll help you pick up new vocabulary and phrases as you work, play or browse on your devices. Many smart speakers also allow you to use two languages, giving you a chance to speak in English when asking for information such as the latest news, sports results or weather forecast.
2. Cook up some vocabulary
If you love to cook, then whipping up a meal with the help of English-language recipes is a great way to learn. There’s a world of flavours to explore, plus lots of opportunities to learn how some ingredients have different names in different countries. For example, while a US recipe might call for eggplant, zucchini and cilantro, a British one would list aubergine, courgette and coriander. You’ll also discover that some countries use different methods of measuring ingredients: metric (grammes), imperial (pounds and ounces), or ‘cups’ (a US cup is 240ml, while an Australian, Canadian or South African one is 250ml). For another quick learning opportunity, don’t forget to write your shopping lists in English.
3. Walk and talk
Whether you’re walking to work, college, the supermarket or anywhere else, use that time to describe in English what you see around you. What are the names of the trees you walk past? What about the people you see? What are they wearing? How old are they? Who are they with? If you see adverts on billboards or vehicles, have a go at translating them into English. If you’re out shopping, try and remember the English names for the items you look at. It’s a good idea to carry a small notebook with you, so you can jot down any words you need to look up at home.
4. Take a break with word games
Use your smartphone to play English word games when you’re taking a break. There are lots of different ones to choose from, ranging from simple crosswords and wordsearches through to more competitive apps such as Scrabble and Words with Friends. All of them are great for expanding your vocabulary – and for learning some truly unusual words. Some of these games allow you to exchange messages with your opponent, giving you another opportunity to improve your English.
5. Open up a world of radio
Lots of us like to listen to the radio while we’re working or driving. If you’re one of them, use one of the many free radio apps to explore English language radio stations. There are thousands of anglophone stations out there, catering to all kinds of interests – from pop music and jazz to arts, culture and politics. Even if you just want some background music to listen to, you’ll pick up a surprising amount of English when the presenter introduces the tracks. If you choose a station with regular news bulletins, it’ll also help you learn topical vocabulary.
6. Explore hobbies and interests in English
Most of us have hobbies and interests that we’re passionate about. From music to skateboarding, cycling to kayaking, painting to gaming, you’ll find lots of English language websites, online communities, videos, apps, magazines and many other resources devoted to your favourite pastimes. The more you use English to learn about a hobby, the more detailed your vocabulary will become. And the more you talk to like-minded enthusiasts in English, the more fluent you will get.
7. Don’t forget social media
Social media is part of our everyday lives and we use it for hundreds of different reasons: keeping up with friends, joining shared interest groups, discussing current affairs, helping our local communities and more. If you love to use social media, it’s an ideal way of practising your English when you’re taking a break from studying. From participating in English-speaking Facebook groups to sharing your views on Twitter or photos on Instagram, social media platforms are an engaging and vibrant way of engaging with other English speakers.
Key takeaway: be creative with your breaks!
No matter how good we are at language learning, we all need to take a break from studying from time to time. By using more of your ‘downtime’ to practise your English, you’ll soon find your language skills improving in ways that complement your formal studies. You’ll also quickly pick up lots of new vocabulary and concepts which you can bring to your live online classes with English Online!