How Do I Learn English If I Live in a Non-English Speaking Country?


Everyone tells you that the best way to learn English is to go and spend time in an English-speaking country, but that’s not always possible, is it? 

You may have limited funds for travel, or maybe you can’t get enough time off of work. You might have a family, and you just can’t take them with you on a three-month-long immersion course in Scotland. 

Or, maybe you just don’t want to leave home, but you need English for work. So, you feel stuck.

Here’s the thing: Immersing yourself in English as much as possible is the answer - but you don’t need to leave home to do it. You just need to create a self-study plan that’s going to work for you.

Today, we’re going to talk about some of the best things you can do to learn, and improve, your English in a non-English speaking country or environment. Specifically, we’re going to talk about creating a plan in parts, or phases, that will help ease you into your English immersion environment of self-study and improvement. The plan, in phases, will look something like this:

  • Pre-planning: Questions to ask yourself before you create your English immersion environment.

  • Phase 1: Ease into immersion and self-study.

  • Phase 2: Increase your daily use of English.

  • Phase 3: Stop using your native language as much as you possibly can!

So, if you’re ready to create an English immersion plan that will actually work for you, let’s get started!

How to Learn English If You Live in a Non-English Speaking Country

Pre-planning: Questions to ask yourself before you create your English immersion environment.

Pre-planning might not sound fun, but it’s important not to skip this part. You want to make sure that you figure out precisely what your goals are and how you’re going to measure them. You also want to make sure you have everything in place that you need to meet those goals.

What do I want to be able to do with my English?

You want to become a more fluent, natural speaker, but why? Do you need it for a promotion at work? Do you want to travel more? Do you want to move to an English-speaking country? Do you want to work at an English-speaking company? Are you trying to build your professional network? 

Or, are you a language lover? Are you trying to impress your friends? Are you dating someone who speaks English? Or do you want to date someone who speaks English? 

Gaining some clarity about your desires and goals will save you time and help you focus on the English that you need.

What are my interests?

Do you like science? Do you like economics? Are you interested in creative things like art, books, film, music, or performance? Is there something specific you want to learn, like graphic design, programming, photography, cooking, baking, or writing? 

Don’t wait until you’ve reached a specific English level to study the things that interest you. The more you enjoy what you’re learning, the more you’ll pursue it.

What are my biggest obstacles?

A big obstacle is that you’re in a non-English speaking country. Ask yourself: How much of my native language do people need me to speak every day? Do I lack confidence in my ability? Do people have trouble understanding me when I speak? Am I too busy with work or family to study? 

Do I have a hard time understanding certain accents of English? Do I struggle with sentence structure? Do I hate reading, listening, writing, or speaking? Do I hate learning grammar? 

These questions will help you figure out if your solution is a practical one or if you just require a shift in your mindset.

What resources will I need to accomplish my goals?

Do you need to download any apps or materials? What apps or materials do you need? Do you need to spend any money or can you get everything I need for free? Do you want to hire a teacher or join a group class? 

And, because you’re in a non-English speaking country, how are you going to recreate an English speaking environment in your home? 

People won’t be speaking English at grocery stores, restaurants, shopping centers, or work. It’s good to be as detailed as possible about how you will make up for the opportunity you would have in an English-speaking country.

How much time do I have?

In the long-term, am I in a hurry to become fluent? Do I have a year? Three months? How much short-term time do I have? Do I have a couple of hours every day? One free day a week?

It’s essential to be realistic about the time you have to make the most of it.

How am I going to keep track of my progress?

Will I check in with myself every month? Every few weeks? Am I going to need a teacher to help me assess my English level? What measurements will I use to track my progress with grammar, reading, writing, listening, and speaking? Do I need to do some online research?

It will be hard to move forward if you don’t have a system in place for measuring your English progress. And it will help you to have a little more data than just, “I feel like I’m getting better.”


Phase 1: Ease into immersion and self-study.

I’m speaking from experience: throwing yourself into language immersion head-first doesn’t work for everyone. I mean, it can work for some people, but for others, it can cause frustration and discouragement. 

To avoid frustration and discouragement, it’s important to ease yourself into immersion, like you might ease yourself into a bathtub full of hot water. 

The great thing about learning in a non-English speaking country is that you can afford to take your time with this step. You don’t have to speak English to survive every day. 

Grammar points to focus on

  • Present simple 

  • present continuous

  • Used to do something

  • Going to do something

  • Simple past

  • Prepositions of place

  • Descriptive adjectives 


  • Start by labeling things around your house or apartment, even easy things. This will train your brain to begin thinking in English all the time.

  • Change one of your social media apps on your phone to English, or any app that you use the most.

  • Commit to doing one of our worksheets every week. 

  • Commit to reading one short news article or story per day. 


  • Create a Spotify, Pandora, or YouTube playlist with English songs. Eventually, this is going to be the only music you listen to. So be sure to choose artists that you like! If you hate the genre of music, you won’t listen to it.

  • Write down any vocabulary words that you hear, and look them up after. Hang on to that vocabulary list, though! It’s going to be necessary for your writing practice.


  • Create a wall or visible area devoted to your new vocabulary words. Choose three new words every day and write three sentences with them.

  • Buy a journal and write three sentences with this theme: “What I did today,” or “What I want to accomplish today” After a few days, challenge yourself to write sentences of different lengths. Practice with transitional words such as:

    • For example,

    • For instance,

    • Let me explain.

    • Even though/if

    • I remember when . . .

    • This reminds me of . . .

    • Since . . . 

    • Unless . . . 

    • Until . . .

    • If . . ., then . . .

    • Not only . . ., but also . . .

    • Besides . . .


  • Download a pronunciation app like ELSA Speak. Commit to practicing with it for five minutes a day.

  • Download a recording app and record yourself talking every day for two to three minutes.

  • If you’re not ready to record yourself, set a timer and talk about anything for two to three minutes. You can talk to yourself, too!

  • Book a trial lesson with an online teacher who will encourage you to speak and who can help you practice any grammar points that you’re trying to focus on. 

Try this for two to three weeks and check in with your progress. Have you added new words to your active vocabulary? Have you increased your percentage of comprehension? Are you getting more comfortable with sentences of different lengths? 

Phase 2: Increase your daily use of English.

Just to be clear: Your phase of learning isn’t the same as your English level. It’s okay if you’re still learning and practicing with beginner-level grammar at this point. It’s also okay if you’re ready to move on to more advanced grammar. 

This level is about increasing things at your own pace. It’s okay to go back and forth between phases, too. 

Grammar points to focus on

  • Past simple 

  • Present perfect 

  • Present perfect continuous

  • About to do something

  • Phrasal verbs

  • Prepositions of time

  • Adverbs of frequency 


  • Change one of your devices so that everything is in English, such as your entire phone, your tablet, or your computer. That includes all your apps, too!

  • Choose an industry or a subject you’re interested in, and start reading one article in English a day related to that subject or industry. Take notes on what you’ve learned about that subject or industry.


  • Choose an English language television series on Netflix or another streaming service. If you don’t have time to watch one episode during a weekday, try to watch two episodes on the weekend. 

  • Choose a couple of your favorite English songs from your Spotify or Pandora playlist. Give yourself the goal of learning all the lyrics – or the words – to two or three of those songs every month. And sing along!

  • Start paying attention to any free moments you have to listen to something, such as your commute to work, workouts at the gym, or time when you’re cooking or cleaning. You can fill that time with an English podcast or an audiobook!


  • Start thinking about the practical things you’d like to do with your writing. Do you want to write more work emails? Do you need to apply for a job? Do you need to write a report? Try creating at least one writing sample every week.

  • Remember that journal you’ve been keeping? Now it’s time to start writing letters to yourself, to other people, to the birds outside, or to the U.S. President. You don’t have to send them, of course, but have fun with it! Let them know what you really think about them! Try to write at least three letters a week.


  • If you could talk, or teach, anyone about anything, what would it be? What are you passionate about, or what is something you know a lot about? Now, imagine you have to give a short, five-minute Ted Talk about why that thing matters to the world. You don’t have to write it out. Just talk! Record yourself, and send it to your friends, family, or your English teacher.

  • Look for an English language partner or group class where you will have plenty of opportunities to speak.


Phase 3: Stop using your native language as much as you possibly can!

Let me put it to you the way one of my language teachers put it to me: “You only speak English now! You don’t know [insert language here] anymore.”

That’s easier said than done, of course, but it’s an excellent way to think about this phase of your English learning.

The trick is that since you live in a non-English speaking environment, you have to be creative and patient with yourself. You’re going to have to speak your native language sometimes, and that’s okay. But you should only use it when you need to.

Grammar points to focus on

  • Past perfect

  • Conditionals

  • Comparative structures

  • Idioms and expressions

  • More phrasal verbs

  • Complex sentences

  • Modal verbs


  • Change the language of all of your devices to English. You only understand English now, remember? So, your phone, computer, tablet – even the navigation device for your car – should be in English.

  • You’ve been reading stories and articles, but what about books in English? Try to aim for reading at least one book a month.


  • Let your friends and family know that you’re dedicated to using English now. Of course, you can still speak to them in your native language, but you’re trying to use as much English as possible. If they can, ask them if they can use English when they speak to you. 

  • All the movies, series, podcasts, and songs that you listen to should be in English now. It’s okay to take a break from time to time, but try to stay strong! It’s going to pay off.


  • Let your coworkers or boss know about your English language progress. Ask if you can be a part of more English writing projects, or ask them if they can give you more opportunities to write in English.

  • If you like using social media, an Instagram or Facebook dedicated to your English writing. Write captions about your life, your thoughts, and your progress with English.

  • Commit to writing in English for ten minutes every day in your journal or diary. This is going to encourage you to think more in English, too.


  • When you can, try speaking in English only, even at the store. If your city or area has an English book store, try to make that your new hang-out spot. Start conversations with the people who work there. And don’t stop going to those group classes or English lessons!

  • Join an English-speaking Meetup group that focuses on a hobby other than English, like writing, programming, or entrepreneurship.

  • Teach English to someone. Sometimes the best way to increase your confidence in a language is to teach it to someone else. If there’s no one to teach it to, record yourself, and upload your video to Instagram or YouTube. 


So, what do I do after Phase 3?

Well, you’re never actually done learning!

But maybe that’s not what you want to hear.

Once you’re at the English level that feels the most functional and practical for your life and your needs, it’s all about maintenance. Basically, it’s all about keeping your English at the level that you want it to be. 

That means you have to keep practicing your English, especially if you live in a non-English speaking country. If you don’t, it will be really easy to lose your current level.

It takes work, time, resources, and creativity. But you can and will figure it out! And think about the feeling of accomplishment you’ll feel when you do.

Worksheets to Improve Your English

About the writer

Marta is an online ESL teacher who works with students from around the world. As a writer, language nerd, and content contributor for In English With Love, her mission is to empower English learners with knowledge and positivity.

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