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10 Ways to Prep for Your English Proficiency Test Without Leaving the Sofa

They say immersion is the best way to learn a new language, but is it possible to immerse yourself in the English language if you’re stuck at home? Luckily - yes!

Just because you’re spending more time at home these days doesn’t mean your language learning has to end. Whether you’re learning English for fun or preparing for an upcoming English language proficiency test, we’ve gathered a list of 10 ways to practice English from the comfort of your own home! 

1. Sign up for an online language exchange

Achieving a high level of proficiency in any language is all about culture and colloquialisms! While grammar and a strong vocabulary are your foundation, fluency is reached when you understand the cultural context of the language - bonus points if you can slip in some slang words!

Thankfully, finding a native speaker to chat with is easy thanks to the many language exchange apps available. If you’re not familiar with a language exchange, it’s simple: You’ll get paired with a native-English speaker who wants to learn your native language and you teach each other! Many of these apps are free, and take into account your interests when matching you with an English-speaker. Plus, it’s a great way to connect and meet new people! 

Here are some options for connecting with native speakers online:

2. Change your smartphone’s language to English

Since learning a language is all about surrounding yourself with it, why not start with your smartphone? Change your phone and social media languages to English - you’ll be amazed by how many new words you pick up that you can use in everyday life!

Many of us use our phones frequently throughout the day, so translating the language to English will increase your exposure without you even realizing it. Sure, it may feel strange at first but you’ll be surprised by how quickly you get used to it and how many new words you pick up.

Related reading: 8 Myths About Learning a Language Online

Student working on his laptop

3. Take a free practice test

Conquer your fear of the unknown by familiarizing yourself as much as possible with the exam in advance! By taking a practice test, you’ll start becoming more comfortable with the format and the types of questions on the exam, and will also illuminate areas where you struggle. Since practice tests are scored, you’ll also get an idea of how you will perform on the real exam.

There are many practice English tests available online, but try to find one as similar to the exam you’re preparing for. One of the most popular tests of English proficiency is the TOEFL iBT® test. They’ve made it easy by providing a free practice test that you can take as many times as you want. This will help you become familiar with the types of questions and content on the actual test and to understand how the test sections are structured.

Once you think you have the format and structure of the actual exam nailed down, search online for other English practice exams to test yourself at home.

4. Download some fun language-learning apps

Language-learning apps have skyrocketed in popularity thanks to their convenience, affordability, and interactive platform. They make it easy to practice a language in short bursts every day, get instant feedback, track your progress, and have fun while doing it!

The game-like nature of language learning apps motivates you like no textbook can! These apps are often scored like a game, and guide you through different levels and activities. 

Here are some of our favorite language learning apps we recommend you check out:

Post It notes on a wall

5. Label things around your home

If you’ve finished your home improvement projects and rearranged your furniture for the millionth time, get out your label maker or a stack of Post-its to practice for your English exam! It may look a bit silly, but labeling items in your home is a great way to improve your vocabulary. 

Label your windows, doors, coffeemaker, refrigerator, blowdryer, and bedside lamp, and these words will be reinforced just by walking around your home! 

 

Further reading: 6 Creative Ways to Practice English

6. Write short stories or keep a journal in English

Your ability to write in English will also be tested in an English proficiency test. So it’s important to practice your writing skills just as much as your reading, listening, and speaking.

A fun way to do this is to write short stories in English. Don’t worry - you don’t need to be the next J. K. Rowling. And you don’t need to show anyone these stories - so they don’t have to be award winners! But creative writing like this can be a fun way to practice using a large amount of vocabulary, especially adjectives and nouns in different tenses.

If writing stories doesn’t inspire you, why not keep a journal in English instead. Writing about your day, your studies, your family, your work, or what you did over the weekend is another great way to practice your English writing. It can also be very therapeutic to get all your thoughts down on paper - all the more reason to give journaling in English a go!

Reading magazines in bed

7. Read books, magazines, and articles in English

Test your reading comprehension by picking up a book or magazine, or reading online articles in English. One great way to practice reading in English is to read a translated copy of a book you already know in your native language. There are also versions of classic novels that use simplified vocabulary and grammatical structure to make it easier to understand. Or, select a book from this list of easy English books from Goodreads.

Apps like Beelingu empower your English learning by showing you the exact same text in English and your native language, side by side. They also have an audiobook feature to help improve your listening comprehension at the same time!

If you’re looking for easy to digest content on the web, the BBC offers a service called BBC Learning English to provide global audiences with free audio, video, and text materials. These resources are often quick, fun and easy to understand - perfect for someone looking to practice English!

8. Tune into your favorite TV show or movie

Listening comprehension will also be tested on most English exams, and TV shows and films add an extra element of cultural context that is key to learning a new language. Challenge yourself by watching without subtitles in your native language. If you’re really struggling, turn on subtitles in English to help and improve your reading comprehension.

Look for classic movies or TV shows that depict life in English-speaking countries. And make sure to choose something that reflects your taste so you want to keep watching. You can even choose a reality TV show to learn modern slang words. Some of our personal faves include:

  • Friends
  • The Office
  • Game of Thrones
  • Keeping Up with the Kardashians
  • Notting Hill
  • Clueless
  • The Wizard of Oz

Listening to a podcast

9. Listen to podcasts or radio

Mix up your listening comprehension by trying out a podcast or radio show in English. Removing the visual cues makes this slightly more difficult than watching TV or movies, and is more likely the format you’ll encounter on an actual English examination. 

While there are seemingly endless podcasts in English to choose from, start with a podcast designed for English language learners. These often include short lessons, discussion of grammar or other common English questions, or simplified stories or conversations. Here are our favorite podcasts for learning English:

10. Talk to yourself (or your pets) in English

If you’re home alone, why not act out possible scenarios in English? Go into your kitchen and pretend to order a coffee in English, or open your pantry and list the items in English. If your English is improving and you’re beginning to think in English, say these thoughts out loud to practice speaking.

We know you might feel silly, but it’s a great way to practice speaking in a completely non-judgmental atmosphere. If you really can’t imagine speaking to yourself, invite your pet goldfish for a chat in English - we promise he won’t tell!

Final thoughts

Learning English isn’t just about learning the right vocabulary, it’s also about improving your intonation, pronunciation, and overall comprehension. When you become fluent in English, you’ll be able speak with others more naturally (without sounding like a robot!). And this is a big part of what English proficiency tests look for.

The beauty of studying English at home is that you have freedom to mess up and try again, and all of the resources you need are available online. Happy studying!

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© ETS, TOEFL and TOEFL iBT are registered trademarks of ETS in the United States and other countries.

Last update: 20 May 2020

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