Learn English without a textbook

by | Jul 20, 2021 | Brain-friendly tips and strategies | 0 comments

Time to study English…

I’ll just wash the dishes first

Right, let’s get started…

Oops I’d better feed the dog

Ok, now I’m ready. Where’s my book?

Oh, I must call my mother to tell her I saw Aunt Marjorie at the market…

Is this you?

Do you ever put off studying English because it feels like another chore on your to-do list? I understand, I used to feel like that when studying languages. When I became an English teacher, I didn’t want my students to have the same negative experience learning a language, so I looked for other ways to “study”

I discovered that sometimes the best learning happens when we don’t even realise we’re learning.

We learn more and better when we do things that we enjoy and find interesting.

In my recent Learn Smarter Workshop about motivation, I talked about two kinds:

  • Extrinsic – we do something because there is a reward or punishment (exam, job, game…)
  • Intrinsic – we do an activity for its inherent satisfaction, because we enjoy it.

Research shows that being motivated by an inner drive (intrinsic motivation) leads to more long term learning than extrinsic motivation which is comparatively short term; we only stay motivated until we receive the reward or avoid the punishment!

So how can we find that intrinsic motivation, that inner drive, that passion for learning English that will help us get long-term results?

Think outside the box and don’t look too hard for that textbook…

These days you don’t need to live in an English speaking country to immerse yourself in a language and culture; technology has made it much easier. There are so many great free resources online to help you improve your English that reflect your personality, preferences and interests.

The more we find and use language which is interesting and relevant, the more we will learn, the more confident we will feel and the easier it will be to free Your English Self. When we enjoy something we usually remember it and want to do it again and again…

So, read, watch, listen to and do what you love in English!


What you can do

  • Do you like keeping up-to-date with world news? Do it in English.
  • Do you like listening to podcasts about exercise? Do it in English.
  • Are you a Netflix addict like my daughter? Be one in English.
  • Do you love listening to music? Singing in the shower? Do it in English.
  • Do you like reading newspapers, specialist magazines, blogs or websites? Do it in English.
  • Are you addicted to your mobile phone (also like my daughter)? Change the language settings to English.
  • Do you like writing down your thoughts? (journalling) Do it in English.
  • Do you like having silly conversations with your friends? Do it in English (See my story below*)

I’m not suggesting that you go crazy and never open a textbook again, just remember your textbook is one of many resources. Try not to follow it page by page but pick out the most relevant and interesting bits for you and supplement it with other resources and activities that you find enjoyable.

Great idea you say, but where do I find all these things? Well that depends entirely on you, your interests and your preferences…

Here are 5 sites where you might find something that interests you…

The New York Times Learning Blog

Articles about anything and everything…super interesting!


Video lessons about all kinds of things with questions to check understanding

British Council Learn English

Lots of videos about language and culture

Lyrics Training

Improve your English with your favourite music videos and songs. If you love singing, there’s even a karaoke mode!

Luke’s English Podcast

Learn about the English language (including those nightmare phrasal verbs!) and British culture with Luke (teacher, comedian, nice guy…)

If you don’t find any of these interesting, take some time to brainstorm your ideas before you start searching online for them.

Remember to bookmark useful and interesting websites and resources so you can find them easily in the future. I use Pearltrees but there are lots of equally good ones e.g Pinterest, Evernote, Google Keep, Google Bookmarks… And of course there’s good old-fashioned pen and paper 😉


A story…

*Before you head off in search of all those amazing resources for learning English I’d like to share a story with you…

It involves some Swedish, a friend, a cat and a heifer (a cow that has not had a calf – I believe – but my farmer friend may correct me on that one!)

To cut a long story short, I’ve been learning Swedish on and off for over a year and on a recent trip to the Swedish giant IKEA, I decided to shop and learn. I posted evidence of my learning on social media…



An Irish teacher/farmer friend with a great sense of humour and love of learning responded to my post…

It all got very silly, but from our Swinglish conversation (Swedish + English. Does that exist? If it doesn’t it should!):

I recalled and recycled:

  • the words for lively (livlig) and cat (katt)

I learnt (with a helping hand from Google Translate)

  • the word for heifer (kviga)
  • the word order of adjectives and nouns (adjective+noun en livlig kviga)
  • the plural form of cats (katter)
  • that adjectives change in the plural form (livlig katt, livliga katter)
  • how to say I think (Jag tror) I understand (Jag forstar – I can’t find the little dots that go above the a and the e)

Is that not amazing (even if it isn’t all 100% right)? From such a short, silly conversation I learnt so much (and not a textbook in sight)

And I thoroughly enjoyed it!

So remember to make good use of your friends too 😉 Thanks G!

And always remember…

“What we learn with pleasure we never forget.”

– Alfred Mercier


Happy Smarter Learning!