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How to self-study English – my own challenging journey

I studied English at high school and secondary school for 7 years but I could not speak or listen to English. All I was ever taught were doing grammar and vocabulary tests.

When I moved out of my small village to the biggest city of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh for university, I knew exactly the very first thing I had to do was to conquer English.

I still remember the first day at my English class at college. I was so shy because I had the lowest score in writing, listening and speaking tests.

My best friend and I registered for a course at an average English language center for 3 months. Here I met two amazing teachers that inspired me and gave me the right method to study English. After that 3 months, I stayed at home and studied by myself.

The very first thing that made me really want to be able to communicate in English was the image of me, standing and having a conversation with a white tall guy or a beautiful white girl about anything I wanted to talk about.

Now, I will go skill by skill, how I beat them one by one.


My main purpose when studying English is to be able to communicate, verbally, with foreigners. So, this is the most important skill I wanted to master at first.

Step 1: Learn phonetic transcription

I was lucky because I met a very good teacher who was a master at phonetics. He taught me the very basic syllables in English.

But you can still learn on your own the English phonetic transcription on Youtube. There are a handful of videos that teach you how to pronounce words correctly. In my mother’s language, there is no ending sound, so I have to focus a lot on the ending sound to differentiate words.

This one:

Step 2: Listen to audio and repeat exactly what they say

Learning English is the practice to imitate people who use real English. Documents don’t matter. You do not need a lot of books, just one is enough, any book that has clear audio and a transcription of the audio.

All you have to do is to play the audio (should choose the simple and short one at first), pause and repeat exactly what they say, how they say, when to stop and when to make a higher voice. Especially, focus on the phonetic because it will have an effect on the meaning of the words.

Practice one short audio until you can read by yourself like they read. Don’t need to understand the meaning, just need to repeat exactly what they say.

You can try to sing along with the songs you love or repeat after shortcuts of a movie or whatever you love. Because learning English is fun and enjoyable.

Step 3: Now, try to understand what you practice and learn by heart the whole sentence (not separate words)

You can look for the word yourself or ask others for help to understand the audio and learn the whole sentence.

For example: I have no money (just learn by heart)

And try to replace the replaceable parts: I have no boyfriend or I have no girlfriend or I have no car,…

And it is very easy to apply in daily life.

Step 4: Try to find environment to practice real conversation and your reaction

For me, after two years practicing alone, I felt like it was time to actually use English.

At that moment, there was a park downtown where there were a lot of tourists. So, I just went there, asking if I could have a conversation with them for a while to practice English. Most of them, if they were not in a rush, would spend a bit of time with me, sometimes it took 2 hours.

I went there every weekend or at night if I had time for nearly a year. I met a lot of amazing people from around the world with their interesting stories (that is the time I start to grow my love for travelling)

Whenever I saw a foreigner, on a bus or while waiting for my friends, …I always tried to ask them if I could have a short conversation with them. Always. I feel so funny when looking back. I was 21 at that time.

You can also join an English club or meetup with foreigners to practice. Remember to read and prepare the content, so you can have something to share. Like me, I also try to share something about our country which makes tourists love to hear and stay with me.

There are some I still keep in touch with until now.


For me, there are two kinds of listening: PASSIVE AND ACTIVE

Passive listening

Whenever I had time and had a chance, I listened to English music, English news,…. while cooking or doing housework, … I just let the audio play.

The more you listen, the more the words come to your subconsciousness and will be a part of your daily life.

Active listening

When I could spend time, I played a short one and tried to write down everything I captured, again and again, then compare it to the transcription.

It really helps because from time to time, it helps you to know what is your mistakes and you will be better next time


There is just a simple formula: practice, practice and practice.

The more your read, the better you write

Practice makes huge improvement

I hope you could find some useful tips to learn English by yourself.

Be remember those important rules:


Do not be afraid that you cannot speak or cannot write. Whenever you have a chance to speak, do not be scared to raise your voice. Even when you are wrong, others will fix for you

The more you use English, the better you are.


And make it a part of your life.

I see a lot of my friends complaining about their bad English but I never saw them put English a priority. They are always busy or have something else to do when it comes to study time. That’s why they will never be good at English.


When I was in the first and second year at university, my mind was always full of English thoughts.

I was going out with my friends and did not know how to say “Could you give me a ride?” I noted down and came to the class to ask my teacher. Whenever I wanted to do something, I tried to express it in English. If I could not, I found help.


There are a lot of ways you can choose to learn English, you can learn from songs, from movies, from America’s Got talent or from Taylor Swift’s speeches. It’s you who decides whether you want to learn or not, whether you want to go “global” or just stay in your small hometown for the rest of your life.

“When there is a will, there is a way”, for sure.

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