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English self-study tips

This article enumerates all tips I used to upgrade my English from "reading and watching movies with subtitles" to "watching movies without subtitles, speaking and writing".

Some background: I studied by myself, the longest English course I had was about 3 months length. I've never studied English abroad and started use English for work every day after starting working in Finland two years ago.

Of course, my English skills are still a work in progress, and I have yet a lot to learn.

But this initial gap between understanding and expressing yourself in a foreign language looks significant for me, so I decided to share these tips in case anyone else is struggling with the same issue.

1/3 Writing

I used for checking, and it helps so much because it not only fixes the mistakes but also explains why they are mistakes, to begin with.

Anything could be used as a writing exercise, but those topics were especially helpful for me:

  • Journaling
  • University notes and reports
  • To write about some movie/book I liked recently
  • To write about music I like and why I like it

Bonus: I highly recommend to read fiction books. And the reason for this is to memorize the patterns and learn new words. For this purpose, Kindle is great because it is like paper, but allows to translate words instantly.

Bonus 2: when reading, it was helpful to me to only write down the words I already met two or three times before. Stopping on every unknown word for too long reduced the pleasure of reading a lot.

2/3 Listening

Understanding English without subtitles was (and plenty of times still is) a very difficult task for me, so here is the roadmap in the exact order I used:

  1. Harry Potter – all audiobooks read by Stephen Fry. They were perfect for the first steps because the plot is familiar, the difficulty increases gradually, there are plenty of them and, finally, they're just really good books.
  2. Disney classics 2D movies. Those were the first ones I started to watch without subtitles, and they were harder than Harry Potter because of the speed and all the effects and noises around voices. But due to their simplicity and familiar plot they were priceless. Pixar movies are also great, but for me, they were more difficult than Disney.
  3. Youtubers. Thanks to amazing content creators I got used to different speech patterns and accents. I've been watching mostly tech reviews and TED talks.
  4. Netflix. The value for the price is great, and TV series are a really nice way to dive into the world of the English language. For me, superhero TV shows worked the best because I didn't know the plot, but it was still easy enough to understand. At the same time, they're long enough to get used to speaking and short enough to complete. Reality shows also worked very well.
  5. All favorite movies that are originally made in English. Because the plot is familiar, it'll be easier to watch them. Although I tried to start from them and failed because it still was too difficult, so I would not recommend this as a first step maybe.

The key here is not to turn on subtitles no matter what – and this is the reason I chose the easiest content at the very beginning.

Bonus: Audible with its books and podcasts works really, really well and also has good value for the price.

3/3 Speaking

This one is tricky because help from others will be needed.

What didn't work:

  • Speaking with friends who're about the same level in English and with whom we had the same mother tongue.
  • Thinking for too long and trying to avoid mistakes.

What worked:

  • Speaking with people who share the same interests.
  • Do some projects together with others.
  • Don't think too much about grammar. Most of the time people understood anyway, and grammar eventually sticks somehow by itself.

The idea behind those two suggestions is to move language from a learning priority to an instrument.


Here are some tips that helped me to reduce the anxiety of looking at text written in a foreign language:

  • Change all phones', tablets' and computers' language to English.
  • Change my gaming consoles' interface to English.
  • Consume all media that are originally in English in its original language (books, movies, videogames).
  • Consume all work-related tutorials and materials in English (especially if their original language is English, which is true for much great programming-related content).

Those are the kind of rules I applied in 1 day, and they just help so much. It was uncomfortable for maybe 1 or two days, but after that, a brain somehow got used to a new language and doesn't consider it as something stressful anymore.


That's it. Hope it was helpful. If you spot any mistake or have any questions, please feel free to DM me 📮