Watching YouTube videos is a fantastic way to learn and improve your English. It helps you improve your listening comprehension and vocabulary while learning something exciting and having fun. Just 20 years ago, it wouldn't be possible to immerse yourself in English without being in an English-speaking country. YouTube changed that.
After talking to 50+ language learners to understand how they use online resources, we discovered that most learners use YouTube ineffectively.
The biggest mistake is to watch videos passively and do nothing else. Mistakenly, perhaps believing in stories of babies who learned languages by just watching TV 24/7 by the age of five, many adult learners devour YouTube videos hoping that it helps with improving their English. It does improve your listening comprehension to a certain degree. But not as much as active learning would do. Compared to passive learning when you only listen, active learning is all about engaging with that content. Since you're spending so much time consuming that content, you could have a significantly higher return on your effort by using the active learning strategies below.
Six strategies to use YouTube to the fullest
#1. Watch a mix of English learning channels and thematic channels
There are two types of channels that you should follow (top 10 recommended channels at the end of the page):
- Channels for English learners will help you improve your grammar and pronunciation. You could follow channels where English learners share their journey and tips. Or you could follow channels with professional teachers and communication experts giving you tips and free lessons on how to improve your English.
- Thematic channels in English cover a particular topic - finance, crypto, gaming, movies, travel. Anything you fancy. Mix in a few such channels compared to the first type since the speech is as close to reality as it gets.
#2. Pause and repeat
Research suggests that creating comprehensible output is an effective strategy for improving your English. Comprehensible output is about speaking in English but at a higher level than your current one. This forces you to experiment and go beyond your comfort zone. An excellent method would be to stop the video when you hear something new - a phrase, sentence, vocabulary - and repeat after it.
Do pay attention to your pronunciation and make sure it's close to the original. It also helps with memorizing the vocabulary because it acts as an additional way of practicing it (next to hearing the vocab and thinking about it in your mind)
#3. Learn new vocabulary with a flashcard app
Have you ever discovered a new vocab and were sure that you now know it and won't forget it? Only to find out the next day that you can't recall it anymore? Oh, we have.
When we see or hear something for the first time, and it's fresh in our short-term memory, we might feel confident that we can't possibly forget it. But short-term memory carries its name for a reason. As time passes, memory decays, and it might still be in some hidden chambers of your brain, but you can't recall it anymore.
To prevent that, you need to drive that vocabulary into your long-term memory, and flashcards apps are one of the best ways to do precisely that.
If you don't have one, then check out Heylama. It's a free and powerful flashcard app with some unique features other apps don't have:
- automatic translation and pronunciation
- vocabulary explorer to discover new vocabulary
- and a fun Telegram practice coach that lets you review your flashcards on Telegram messenger
#4. Leave a comment
Writing or speaking publicly in the language you're learning can be frightening. As a rule, no one likes making mistakes in public. We feel that the whole world is watching us and feel self-conscious. But making mistakes is just part of the journey.
One way to engage with the videos you watch is to write a comment. My suggestion is to summarize one thing that you liked or found interesting in the video. It doesn't have to be an extended essay, and just a few sentences would suffice. Try to use the vocabs you saved in the previous step.
#5. Summarize verbally
The final step is to retell the video to yourself in a few sentences. Try to summarize the main points:
- What was it about?
- What did you learn?
- Was there something you disagree with?
- Was there something you agree with?
It's an excellent exercise to practice speaking and critical thinking. It'll also help you reinforce what you just learned in the video.
#6. Start your own channel (the ultimate boss move)
Starting your own channel might not be on your roadmap, but ultimately it's the most effective way of leveraging YouTube to make fast progress. Shooting videos is scary, I myself have been delaying the idea for month, but I remember shooting a few videos in German and that was insanely helpful. As you'll need to create a script, practice it and record yourself actually saying it, it's just Active Learning in its purest. Btw, you don't have to advertise your channel or invite friends. No need to make it pretty or spend hours editing your videos. Using it as your daily diary is more than sufficient.
Top 10 YouTube channels for learning English
Top 5 channels about learning English
- Rachel's English: https://www.youtube.com/c/rachelsenglish
- Accents way with Hadar: https://www.youtube.com/c/accentsway
- Linguamarina: https://www.youtube.com/c/linguamarina
- Learning English with TV series: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKgpamMlm872zkGDcBJHYDg
- English class 101: https://www.youtube.com/c/EnglishClass101
Top 5 thematic channels in English
- Ted Talks: https://www.youtube.com/c/TED
- Kurzgesagt - in a nutshell: https://www.youtube.com/c/inanutshell
- Ali Abdaal: https://www.youtube.com/c/aliabdaal
- NBC News: https://www.youtube.com/c/NBCNews
- Geography Now: https://www.youtube.com/c/GeographyNow