I feel like I’m traveling back in time. Back to back then, to my 10-year-old self. The shy Alexa, who doesn’t dare to talk to a stranger. She is silent in class for fear of being laughed at if she says the wrong thing. Who prefers to stand by the side and watch instead of throwing herself into the fray.
Over the years I have largely put aside this fear. It has been forgotten. And now, I am in a strange country, with strange people and speak their language very badly. And aren’t the words we choose part of our personality? Isn’t that what determines who we are?
I feel like I’m a completely new person in English who has yet to be shaped. She’s still learning who she is. I don’t have a personality that can affect others. Just this 10-year-old shy me. A 25-year-old woman who speaks poorer English than the 18-year-old Work and Traveler. Time to change that. I also consciously chose my trip around the world because I wanted to learn to speak better English. And since I’m learning by doing, I knew that I could only learn English by practicing.
This post is for you if …
- You struggled to learn English in school
- You are more of the practical learner type than the theoretical one
- You want to learn English before going on a trip
- Or you need tips on how to improve your English during your trip
I’ve split the post into two parts for you.
- First, how to learn English from home
- And how you learn English during your stay abroad
What kind of learner are you?
I always want to be well prepared. World travel planning: no problem. Taking a self-defense class and learning English was also on my to-do list. I would have preferred to have taken the self-defense course beforehand (then I would probably have felt more comfortable in America) instead of trying to improve my English half-heartedly.
Yes, not much has stuck to the English you learned earlier. Only the feeling of security when talking to others was a little more pronounced. I only really learned to speak English during my trip and write my essay.
Why learning English didn’t work for me beforehand (and also not at school) and whether you should use the time for it depends on what type of learner you are.
I am more of a practitioner. Just theoretical learning without a real application doesn’t help me. I have to do one thing to get it to stick in my head. Stubborn learning vocabulary and grammar help for the next day’s English test at school – but not for learning to speak the language fluently. Still, I tried.
How I brushed up on my bad school English before going around the world
- Learn English with apps
I started with apps. Babbel, Busuu, or Duo lingo – I’ve tried quite a few and found: They’ll all only bring you something if you pay for them. The free versions are very stripped down and Duo lingo is quite a joke if you’ve already learned the basics. I liked Babbel best. However, the full version costs between € 8.00 and € 16.99 per month.
An alternative would be an English learning program *. You only have to pay once for this, but you have a fixed framework that is not expanded to include further exercises.
- Watch films or series in English – but correct
Watching films in English has probably already been recommended by many. But watching a movie in English and not understanding anything does not help you. So here are a few advanced tips for you:
- Watch films that you have already seen in German. Best of all, the ones you know inside out so that you know what is being said. For example, as an old Harry Potter nerd and Buffy fan, I used these recordings.
- Turn on subtitles. But not the Germans, because that means that you only read subtitles and don’t listen at all. Turn on the subtitles in English. This helps you to understand what is being said, especially with strong accents or when people are speaking very quickly. In a pinch, you can click pause and look up the word you don’t understand.
- Watch simple movies. No series like Big Bang Theory, the content of which you don’t understand in German thanks to the nerds. Films with completely normal situations are best suited because here you can transfer the dialogues to your everyday travel. Films where people talk about their everyday lives, their jobs, their dreams, and their plans.
- Read books in English
The situation with the books is similar to that with the films: Preferably books that you already know. Start with simple books, such as children’s and teenagers’ books. Nothing abstract, no books with intensive learning content. Only the subtitles are not available here.
In the beginning, I felt I looked up every word I didn’t understand. And that’s why it took hours for a whole chapter. Don’t do that, it’ll spoil the fun of the whole thing. Just start reading. You will see that by and large; you will understand the content. If you haven’t understood the chapter after all or if you keep repeating unknown words, look them up or get the book in German to read the chapter in a language you know. Be careful – there won’t be a one-to-one translation.
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