I am often asked by students how to use English outside the classroom despite their busy lives in Madrid. Even if your home and work-life are generally in Spanish, or any language that isn't English or that matter, here are a few simple steps you can take to ensure you are practicing all the skills and using your time as effectively as possible.
Start with your computer! The internet is dominated by English, so are you using English webpages when browsing where possible? Is your browser set to English?
1. Your computer and the internet
Why not start simple. Change your browser and operating system to English. You will not only change your "chip" to English as soon as you open your laptop or sit at your computer, but it will also mean more English material will be pushed to you where, perhaps, there was a preference towards Spanish webpages.
2. Your news feed
Following on with the internet, what about how you read the news? The national newspapers in Spain offer English versions. And the international news is available from news sources all over the world in English. Next time you want to get up-to-dat with current affairs, vary your news source. The BBC, British newspapers, US newspapers, and various European international news providers will give you the chance to improve your reading whilst seeing the world from a different point of view.
Some of the vocabulary might not be easy, journalists often use unusual verbs. So, if you have the drive it's a wonderful way to push your reading forward.
1. Choose articles you already know the backstory to if you are finding it difficult to understand everything.
2. Take note of interesting verbs or phrases which could be used in the writing paper of one of the exams.
3. If you need more challenge choose articles which are about subjects you wouldn't normally consider reading about. That way you will really test your comprehension. And, it's exactly what you will be tasked with in the reading papers of these exams. On exam day there is not choice, but you still need to find the answers.
Give it a try!
3. Television and series
Honestly, do you watch series and films in VO? Do you change the television to English where possible? If yes, well done. I'm sure you can see the advantages already. If not, why not? It's all done for you and it's not as much of an effort as reading an article when its a visual story you have to guide you.
By all means use subtitles. In fact, I think having either the audio in English and the subtitles in Spanish, or vice-versa can be really useful to compare how similar things are expressed differently between the two languages. Once you are more confident, or if you are already very familiar with the show you are watching, try putting the subtitle into English as well. That way you can read and listen and improve you comprehension generally. It will help you with different accents and also you spelling and grammar. We hear words spoken, but we also all know that English is complicated when it comes to spelling. There are rules, of course, just lots of them!