In typical learning environments we’re used to having professional teachers there to encourage us, guide us and push us towards our goals. However, many of you may now be faced with the challenge of studying English at home, without face to face support from a teacher.
When it comes to studying at home, it can be difficult to stay motivated and focused. But don’t worry – we have some useful tips to help you stay on top of your game.
1. Create a calm study space
It’s really important to have an area that is conducive to learning! Studying at home can come with lots of potential distractions. However, creating a calm area where you can hit the books will make a big difference. So how do you create a calm study space? Here are three suggestions:
Arrange a dedicated learning area
Having a designated space for learning within the home will help you to focus and get into a routine. (More on that in a minute!) In an ideal world, you’ll have a home office or study, a separate room where you can go and work. However, most people don’t have the luxury of that extra space, so work with what you’ve got. Do you have a desk in your bedroom? Can you use the kitchen table? No matter how small the area, you’ll know that when you sit down, you’re there to work.
Keep clutter to a minimum
It’s important to keep your learning area tidy and free of clutter. If you’re studying at your desk, make sure it’s clear of any mess. If you’re studying at the kitchen table, clear everything off, even temporarily. A tidy space will help you to focus and relax.
Keeping your notes organised will make it easier to revise what you’ve learned and review your work each day. If you’re working at your own desk, take a few moments at the end of each day to organise your notes into different folders, depending on what you’ve been studying. We understand that it can seem more difficult to stay organised if you don’t have a lot of space. One idea is to store all your English books, folders and notes in a big box. That way, everything is together – even if you are studying in a multi-functional space like the kitchen table.
2. Design a routine
Having a routine can really benefit your learning. If you are studying for an exam, a routine can help with any stress or nerves you might have; you’ll know that you put in the time needed to ace the test. Even if you’re not studying with an exam in mind, following an established routine has been shown to increase academic performance; even things like eating regular meals and going to bed at the same time each night can help to boost grades.
Decide on a timetable
When creating a routine, the first thing you should decide on is how many hours you’ll study each day. This will depend on how much time you have and how fast you want to improve. Five to six hours a day is probably the maximum before your productivity starts to drop. But even one or two hours a day will make a big difference to your English skills if you stick to it.
Make a plan
Once you’ve decided how many hours you’re going to study each day, it’s a good idea to plan exactly what you want to study. Think about the different skills you need to practise and the exercises that will help. Then, break your studying time down into chunks so you’re not spending too long on any one activity. Here is an example of a study plan:
|10am||Revision of previous day||Revision of previous day||Writing||Revision of previous day||Revision of previous day|
3. Limit your screen time
Spending hours sitting in front of a computer or laptop is bad for your eyes, your posture and your concentration. Limiting your screen time has been shown to improve your sleep, too, which means you’ll study better if you’ve had a good night’s sleep!
But when there are so many English resources online, it’s easy to end up spending too much time on the computer. Here are some ideas for activities which will help to improve your English away from a screen – and a couple of free resources for when you are online.
Read in English
You don’t need a whole shelf of English books read in English. Start small with one novel and a dictionary. A graded reader is a good option, depending on your level. You can check your reading level here, and browse the full catalogue to find something that you’ll enjoy.
As part of your study routine, read two or three pages each day, writing down the words you don’t know and then using the dictionary to look them up and write their meanings. Not only will your reading skills improve, you’ll have a list of new vocabulary. If you’re using a print dictionary, you’ll come across other words as you’re looking up the new vocabulary. But even if you don’t have a print dictionary at home, you can look up vocabulary in our learner dictionary, which also has audio, example sentences, synonyms and grammar explanations.
Write by hand
Writing by hand has been shown to improve your memory; the physical act of using your hand to write means that you organise your thoughts in a different way. This helps with ‘deep processing’, which creates a stronger memory. So get writing! Organise your grammar notes in a clear, easy to read format – and try using different colour pens to highlight different verb tenses. If you have a writing exercise to do, don’t type it on a laptop – reach for a pen and paper instead. You might be surprised at the difference it makes. And you can still check what you’ve written – during your online time, type your text into our online text checker to see what level you’re writing at and what word lists you should be revising.
Listen to podcasts in English
Podcasts are an excellent idea, as you can listen to them wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. The BBC also has a series of podcasts for English learners. But, you can listen to podcasts about current affairs, or cooking, or yoga – just choose whatever you’re interested in! And remember, in some apps you can listen at half speed if you’re struggling to follow the dialogue.
4. Keep active
Exercise is important for all sorts of reasons. It helps you to stay healthy, it improves your mood and improves your strength and stamina. But did you know it can help you learn, too?
Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that people who exercise regularly have bigger brain volume in the area of the hippocampus, which is linked to learning. Exercise also boosts the size of your prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex. These areas are linked to thinking and memory – all of which come in especially handy when you’re studying a language! It can be a great idea to fit in exercise breaks into your study routine, which will help you to stay energised focused when you return to your desk. Here are a couple of ideas:
Do some housework
Did you know that housework counts as exercise? Any activity that causes you to sweat is good cardio, so mop those floors, clean the bathroom and wash the windows! You’ll feel good, your mood will improve, and your house will be sparkling clean. After all, it’s always nicer to study in a clean environment.
Follow along with an exercise video
There are lots of fun exercise videos on Youtube. And if you choose a video in English, you’ll be practising your listening skills and learning new vocabulary at the same time as you’re exercising and boosting your brain power!
5. Stay connected
Finally, stay motivated by keeping in touch with your learning community. It might seem to contradict our previous advice about limiting your screen time, but connecting with other learners can keep you motivated when you’re studying at home. Join English learning threads on Reddit, and read blogs with useful language learning advice. There are lots of great community groups on social media, and of course you can follow us on Facebook and Instagram for helpful learning tips.
What are your top tips for staying motivated when you’re studying at home? Let us know in the comments!
Don’t forget to check out our Learning at Home page, with lots more learning tips and activities.