Let’s start with this: Your English is no doubt better than you think — and the more you believe in your awesome English, the better it will be. That said, here are some powerful English learning tips for mastering this language once and for all!
1. Let Your Helping Verbs Help You
You may be thinking that helping verbs are a total pain — a cruel and unusual punishment with an ironic name. Or maybe you’re trying to remember what exactly a “helping verb” is. Well, we’re here to enlighten you on the true helpfulness of helping verbs (and what those are again, anyway).
We’ve got do and does for the simple present tense, am, is and are for the present continuous, will for future-with-will, are, is and am back again for future-with-going-to, and can, could, might, would and should as your friendly modal helping verbs!
How are they so helpful? Because (for the most part) whenever one shows up, the other verb, a.k.a. “the main verb,” just hangs out in its infinitive form! So easy. But note: Main verbs for present continuous and future-with-going-to act differently. They function as their infinitive plus -ing. As in, “I am loving these tips!”
The situation where helping verbs cause the most confusion is when asking questions. This is because of those tricky verb tenses listed above and all their different helping verbs, so you first need to figure out which tense you want to use before asking the question! Finally, be mindful to not leave out your helping verbs where they’re needed. For example, “What means ‘grapefruit’?” is missing something. This question is asking to be corrected to: “What does ‘grapefruit’ mean?”
2. Present Continuous Or Present Simple?
Here’s one reason I brought up helping verbs for my first tip: One of the most common English stumbling points — especially for people like you, whose English is already pretty great — is that moment when you begin a question and haven’t decided whether you’re going to use the present simple or the present continuous. Or maybe you have decided, but haven’t practiced your questions (or developed a respect for helping verbs).
Then your sentence ends up something like: “Do you are be chilling with Becky?”
No, I don’t usually chill with Becky. And I won’t be doing so later. And I’m definitely not right now. I don’t really vibe with Becky.
And I know — you know it when you see it written. But when it comes time to ask a casual, spontaneous question in person, there’s no time for writing it out. So, practice saying these:
- “Are you chilling with Becky at the moment?” (P. Continuous)
- “Are you chilling with Becky later?” (P. Continuous for future plans)
- “Do you often chill with Becky? How regularly?” (P. Simple)
You’ve probably noticed that using the Present Continuous is really common in English. That’s because it works for what’s happening right now, for projects that are in progress, and for planned future events. While the favorite of many other languages, Present Simple only works in English for long-term facts about things, like what you have, what you do, or where you live — and for things you regularly do. For example: “I chill with my bae every day.”
3. Get Comfortable With ’ll
That’s right. I’ll say it, and I’ll say it again! Yes, the double L. It’s awkward at first, but once you get used to it, you’ll really be a cool, groovy English speaker, partying like a native-speaker on a Saturday night.
It’s hard for many non-natives to really believe in the importance of two little L’s hanging onto “I” like a kid pulling on their mom’s arm. Why not just say “I”? “I say it, and I say it again!” No, no. Unfortunately, this just doesn’t have the same ring to it. These two L’s stand for something! In fact, they indicate a whole different verb form. They mean “will” and they take the sentence from the simple present to the future (with-will). Very powerful and very helpful for clarity.
Just try it out. You can choose from two pronunciations: There’s “isle” like the Scottish Isle of Skye, or there’s “all.” That’s easy enough. The other ones are also pretty easy: She’ll sounds like “shill,” they’ll rhymes with “hail,” and we’ll sounds (OK, this one is a little confusing) like “will” or “wheel.”
All of these get used a lot, especially I’ll. “I’ll call you later.” “I’ll send you an email.” This may shock some, but it’s not “I send you an email.” Unless you want to say, “I send you an email every morning, Joan! You never read them!” But almost always, it’s “I’ll send you an email.”
4. Don’t Stress Out, Stress The Right Syllable!
Are people giving you a weird look when you try to use your cool new word in the conversation? It could be your usage, but it could also just be that you’re “stressing” — or emphasizing — the wrong syllable (as is the case in this iconic scene).
Sometimes it’s hard to know which part of the word should be said loudest and with the most punch, but there are general rules of thumb that help. One of these rules is when there is a word that is both a noun and a verb, the two uses are stressed differently. For example, in the noun “object,” the “ob” is the strong syllable, while for the verb “object,” the “ject” is more strongly pronounced.
Another greatly helpful rule of thumb is this: For a whole bunch of words with certain endings, the stressed syllable comes right before the one-to-two syllable ending. These endings include the following: -tion, -sion, -ic,-ical, -ity, -ety, -graphy, -ody, -ogy, -ient, -cient, -ience,-ial, -ual, -ious. That’s a lot of words, which you’ll know how to stress — like “attention,” “automatic,” and “convenient.”
5. Relax And Enjoy Yourself!
Here’s the thing: Chances are, you’re awesome and have great ideas. People already want to know what you have to say, so it’s OK if you have a few grammar or vocab slip-ups. Also, if you’re talking to an English native speaker, they probably don’t speak your native language or perhaps any other (unless you work at Babbel), so you’re the impressive one in the conversation.
Just have fun and be yourself, and don’t forget to be nice and encouraging to yourself as you continue to learn! If you need one last tip, try to relax your face when you speak, or slur words together like you’ve had too much to drink — these both help with your pronunciation. Seriously!