ESL Learning Strategies


Learning Strategies for Students Studying English

Learning English Quiz:

How do you learn English?

  1. ______ Study with other people
  2. ______ Study by myself
  3. ______ Study with music
  4. ______ Read books, newspapers, magazines
  5. ______ Read with a dictionary
  6. ______ Read without a dictionary
  7. ______ Watch TV
  8. ______ Listen to the radio
  9. ______ Speak with Americans at work, at the store, at the college
  10. ______ Make vocabulary cards
  11. ______ Put the vocabulary cards in your home (kitchen words in the kitchen)
  12. ______ Listen for and use idioms
  13. ______ Use the Internet to study English
  14. ______ Learn English songs
  15. ______ Study grammar books
  16. ______ Tape myself speaking English (video or audio)
  17. ______ Listen to tapes and repeat
  18. ______ Write a diary
  19. ______ Write stories
  20. ______ Use an email account with your teacher or another student
  21. ______ Focus on pronunciation and intonation

There is no right or wrong way to learn English-there is only what works for you! For the most success try as many methods as possible.

Strategies to Help You Learn English

Strategies are techniques we use to help us learn and remember better. Here are some strategies students have found helpful for learning English. What are some your favorite strategies? Email us and we can add them to the list.


Strategy: Use What You Already Know
  • Ask yourself, "What do I already know about this topic?"
    You can think about information you already know about the topic, the world, and the language to help you do the task. You can think of the kinds of words, phrases, and information that you can expect to see or to use.

  • Examples: If you want to buy a concert ticket, think about what you will need to say to the cashier; for example you will want to know how to ask about dates, times, and prices in English. If you are reading a weather report in English, think about what you already know about weather reports-what kind of information do you expect (temperature, rain, sun, etc.)

  • Why should I use this strategy? Although you may be new to America and English, you are an adult and have had many experiences. You already know a lot about the world and language! Use what you know. Thinking about what you already know can help you solve problems and work through the task. It will also make you feel better about yourself because you know that you already have many skills and a lot of  knowledge.

Three Problem-Solving Strategies

What do you do when you don't understand a word? Use one of these strategies to help you solve the mystery word or phrase:


Problem-Solving Strategy 1: Guess

Use logic to guess the meaning of the unknown word or phrase. You can use what you know about English, your native language, the context, pictures, and anything else to help you.

Example: You are reading a dialogue about school and you see the word "to study", which is not familiar to you, again and again. Based on your knowledge of English, you figure out the word is a verb. You also notice that many of the words close to the mystery word are school subjects such as mathematics, literature, biology, and music. Based on all this information, you guess (correctly!) that the word must mean to study.

Why should I use this strategy? There are too many words in English for you to look up all of them in the dictionary. Imagine what a difficult and boring task if you spend the time always in a dictionary. Guessing can help you solve your problem quickly.


Problem-Solving Strategy 2: Ask a Question

If you need help or don't understand something, ask a question.

Example: Your teacher uses an unfamiliar word, such as "accountant", when you are studying professions. You could find out the meaning by asking a question such as, "Does this person work in the city or country? Does this person work with money?" Asking specific questions can give you the information you need. Sometimes a general question like "What does it mean?" does not give you the most accurate information.

Why should I use this strategy? Asking a question makes you an active, responsible learner. You will understand and feel better in class if you know what's going.



Problem-Solving Strategy 3: Use a Resource

If you need help, you can use reference materials such as dictionaries, textbooks, computer programs, and the Internet.

Examples: You are studying at home and you don't understand a word. You try to guess the word but you still don't understand. You feel like the word is very important and without knowing the word you cannot understand the story. You decide to use your dictionary to find out the meaning.

You are studying English in the computer lab with your class. You don't understand the grammar in the English Discoveries exercise. You want to ask your teacher for help but she is helping another student. You decide to use the help feature in English Discoveries to learn about the grammar on your own. You know if you still don't understand, you can always ask your teacher later.

Why should I use this strategy? Looking up unfamiliar information in a reference source can help you solve complex problems, especially if no one is available to help you.



A Strategy for Remembering Vocabulary- Keyword Method

How can I remember so many words?
Use the Keyword Imagery Method to remember vocabulary

   Step 1: Think of a "keyword" that sounds like the new word, and imagine it as a picture.
   Step 2:Think of a picture that describes the meaning of the new word or information.
   Step 3: Link the pictures together in my mind. Crazy linking pictures are easy to remember.
   Russian word: Stariy; Definition: Old; Keyword Image: A star in the sky with the face of an old man     with a long white beard.

Why should I use this strategy? Using the keyword method creates a visual and personal association between meaning and sound, and these mental links help you remember the vocabulary item.

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