Feel like there is never enough time to improve your English? You need it for your work, you manage to survive most conversations but you would really like to feel more confident, more fluent. But where do you find the time?

Over the years teaching adults in Italy, Spain and online – and in particular busy adults with demanding jobs, families, social commitments and much more – I’ve been on a mission to try and help my students make the most of their time. Many of my students would have time (or money) for one or two lessons a week but outside of that, their exposure to English was quite limited. Most students never spoke English to anybody but me. However, their dreams were big: go travelling, work overseas, get promoted or just be able to communicate with the world.

This was not going to work! How could they make bigger steps towards their goals?
So over the years, through successes and failures, these are my top tips for those looking to improve their English despite their busy lives:

Have clear goals and break them down into small pieces

Why are you learning English? Do you want to learn English for work? What does that actually mean? Do you want to improve your email writing or do you want to have lunch with British colleagues and not feel like a fool? What exactly would it take to improve this? What skills do you need?

Try to break these goals into more manageable tasks, be realistic. Try to imagine the types of conversations you imagine having. What kind of phrases and vocabulary would be useful? How can I learn and practice this? Once you have mastered one skill, then you’re ready to try another (and celebrate your success too!)

Make English part of your daily routine

It’s a bit like eating healthily or becoming more organized, you need to start by making it part of your daily life. Start with something little each day. Choose a moment where you can do something easily without having to set yourself up to study for hours. I always ask my students when they have a little spare time. Maybe it’s while they are driving to work, sitting on a bus, on a coffee or lunch break, maybe for the night owls, after dinner. Whatever works for you, start with trying something small. Me personally, after I’ve completed the school drop off, I put on my headphones and walk back home listening to a news report or podcast in Spanish. It’s about ten minutes a day, but doing it every day, really makes a difference.

Push your vocabulary by not using the same old words

Many students tend to use the same vocabulary all of the time. Generally it’s ok right? You manage to communicate what you want to say. Often they are verbs which are similar to your own language. Let’s take the verb “arrive”. In Italian, it’s “arrivare”. Easy right?

But how how else do we say “arrive” in English? How about “get to” or “show up”? Try to set yourself a goal of not using “arrive” for a week and try to use something else. Soon, you’ll find yourself using new phrases and sounding more fluent without a big effort.

Learn about things that interest you

Passionate about architecture? Love travelling? Crazy for cooking? How about watching, listening to or reading about things in English that interest you. It’s much more interesting than reading an article about British history in the 16th century (well, unless you like that) and the vocabulary is probably more useful too! You’ll be doing something you love and improving your English!

Use up all your opportunities to speak the language

How many times have I heard people say that whenever anybody calls them and wants to speak in English, they immediately ask them to send an email. NO! DO NOT DO THIS! As frustrating as it is, you need to take every opportunity you can. Believe it or not, the more phone calls you make, the easier it will get. If you don’t understand anything, try to get them to explain in another way, force them to try and make it simpler.

Do you know anyone you could practice with? Maybe try an online language exchange app like Tandem or seek out activities in English in your city.

You don’t need more English lessons

More English lessons could be useful, don’t get me wrong. But to be honest, you need to get out there and use the language. With all the resources out there on the internet, there really is something there for you. What you may need, however, is someone who can guide you, review what you are doing and inspire you to keep going. Don’t be afraid to ask for help but at the end of the day, you are the one who is responsible for learning. Go on, you can do it!

And finally, how about a little inspiration?

I love this TED talk about finding more free time:

Gain control of your free time

The idea is that when something is important enough, time appears.

How important is improving English to you? Do you think you can find a little more time?