English lessons, whether taken as private one-on-one or group classes, are the key tool to learn and master the language. Like any learning process, however, they must be backed up by reinforcing behaviour outside the classroom. This obtains and locks in meaningful results.
In most subjects of study, this means many cloistered hours spent burning the midnight oil, with your head in the books. English language students have a distinct advantage: practicing the language should be fun, and should interact seamlessly with your daily life. Just make a few distinct efforts here and there to expose yourself a little more to the English language and reap the benefits. Here are 10 great tips to help you gain more exposure to the English language outside the classroom:
1. Make Friends with English Speakers
If you hang out among people with whom you can speak English, you will practice it through immersion without even trying. This may seem obvious. If you are living in a new city, it’s natural to lean towards making friends with people who come from a similar place. They will speak the same language as you – and that’s totally cool.
Don’t, however, miss the chance to cast your net a little wider and make friends with people who speak other languages. If and when you can it’s great to befriend and speak to native English speakers. Speakers of other languages will, however, also usually converse in English. This will also therefore be excellent practice, and you may even find them easier to understand. Non-native speakers usually speak a little slower. A word of warning, however: don’t ever tell people you want to hang out in order to practice your English. This is because that’s not what being friends is about and this will only pour cold water on your new friendships. You want to hang out primarily to have fun, of course!
2. Attend Networking Events
Many cities, including Hong Kong, have a wide variety of networking events, often laid on by chambers of commerce. The British, Australian, Canadian and American chambers organise these events, often on a monthly basis. The events usually cost around HK$300 (US$38). You will be standing in a room of people who all want to speak English to you over a glass of wine. Bring some business cards because it even may help your career and land you a job! As always, don’t tell them you’re there just to practise your English, but to expand your circle and make new contacts. You will quite possibly even make some new friends. Here is a list of Chambers of Commerce in Hong Kong
3. The Royal Geographical Society
The Royal Geographical Society in Hong Kong (and London) organises interesting weekly lectures, often by famous people. Before most lectures there is time to chat to other members over a glass of wine. Other events include gala dinners, field trips and treasure hunts. All these events are great fun and an ideal way to practice your English language skills. Annual membership costs only HK$400 (US$51), lectures cost HK$150 (US$19) each for members and online lectures, are free to members.
4. Join a Sports Club
If you enjoy playing sport, there is usually the chance to join and play at a sports club. Cricket, soccer, rugby football, rowing, sailing, squash, tennis and netball are all played in Hong Kong. If you can play these games to a high enough level, you will be given very cheaper rates to join prestigious clubs. These include Hong Kong Football Club, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club and Kowloon Cricket Club which have top notch facilities. It will also help you to skip the often lengthy membership waiting lists, which can take years!
Playing sport (above all team games) is a great way to improve your English. Adding to this, socialising in English is big part of being a member of these clubs. Running clubs are another way to stay fit, socialise and practice your English conversation. The Hash House Harriers is a welcoming club that cares more about the social side than the running itself!
To get you started, here is a great list of sports clubs and associations in Hong Kong.
5. Get into Volunteering
Maybe you have time to spare and would like to practice your English while also doing something positive for society. There are a variety of charities where you can volunteer your time. This makes a difference for society and at the same time, of course, hones your English. You can help a good cause that is close to your heart because there are charities to meet diverse needs. Examples include: those which reduce the effects of poverty, take care of animals, and help refugees. During the course of your volunteering, you are highly likely to gain the chance to use, practice and develop your English.
6. Practice Your Religion in English
If you are religious, you should be able to practice your English at the same time as living your faith. Many religious institutions hold services in a range of languages. If you do not already do so, you can consider attending the English language service. This will not only allow you to practice English as part of your regular worship. You will also be most likely meet others with whom you can talk the language. Religious scriptures/texts can be used to improve your skills, since they are freely available online, translated into many languages. If you regularly read scripture, you may like to consider first reading the English language version. You can then cross reference it, if needed, to your native language version.
This web page provides information about places of worship in Hong Kong. A word of warning, however, it’s likely that not all listings have services etc. in English, so it’s best to check with the individual places of worship first.
7. Speak English While Dating
If you are single and ready to mingle, why limit yourself to dating people who speak the same language? Of course, as mentioned before, don’t tell your dates that you’re only seeing them to practice your language skills. That may not go down very well! Going out long-term with someone with whom you must speak English could be the single greatest way to immerse yourself. With the advent of internet dating, it’s easy to cast the net wide and meet people from diverse countries. Go for it!
8. Read and Watch the News in English
There was a time when you needed to buy a newspaper in order to find out what is happening in the world. These days, however, there is a wealth of news sources out there, for free. BBC news for example has a wealth articles on a range of subjects – both news and lifestyle related – completely free. If you run into trouble grasping any of the articles, you can resort to internet translations, such as Google Translate or DeepL There are also a number of free English language news channels online, including on YouTube. If you find this too hard, you can watch with English subtitles.
9. Watch Movies in English
If you enjoy watching films or movies, why not use this as a way to improve your English language skills? It’s good to start with favourite Hollywood movies that you have watched many times in your own language. You should now watch these movies in the original English. Even if you find the language hard, you will have a good idea of what is being said – from memory. Try watching newer films first in your own language, and then in English. If you are gaining in confidence, but still need some help, you could watch films in English, with English subtitles. This combo of listening and reading can be a really helpful way to improve your skills.
10. Listen to English Audio and Podcasts
There are a great number of both free and paid audio podcasts and books available. You can also use these to practice your English listening skills. This can be very useful if you have time to kill on a commute, or if you like listening while walking. Amazon’s Audible has thousands of audio-books so you are bound to find something you like. You can hit a button to rewind 10 seconds if there is something you did not understand first time. There are also hundreds of free radio stations, available to listen to over the internet. BBC Radio 4 is a really useful one, featuring English spoken word, covering news, lifestyle and entertainment.
You can now hopefully see that your chances to practice English are at almost every turn. With a little effort to step out of your comfort zone, you can develop your skills every day.