Be an active learner

Make faster progress in English with this training on active learning

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There are many great reasons to be an active learner in English: it’s more fun, it’s more effective, and it helps you make faster progress. Learn more in this free video workshop.

After you watch the video, take the quiz to check your understanding.

Be an active learner

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Be an active learner

Jeff 07/13/2022

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Let me do and I understand.


Even Socrates knew that active learning is better than passive learning. Still, passive learning has its place in any language learning strategy. To start, however, let’s see the difference between active and passive learning.

Active vs. passive learning

Learning—especially language learning—takes many forms. For example, in the same day, you might watch an instructional video, have an hourlong one-on-one conversation class, practice writing in a journal, and listen to an English podcast.

Learning strategies can be divided into two categories:

  • Active learning, where you take an action and use multiple brain functions
  • Passive learning, where you are a consumer and are not taking action

Both active and passive learning can be part of an effective plan. However, there are several reasons to be an active learner if you want to progress in English.

Reasons to be an active learner

Students learn more when they are actively engaged than they do in a passive environment.

From “Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Learn more

As the quote above confirms, you learn more when you’re involved in active learning strategies. The study quoted above, however, has a very interesting finding: Students think they learn more from (passive) lectures, but they really learn more from active strategies.

The authors say that active learning strategies can be uncomfortable at first. Learners often want to stick to their comfort zone of listening to a presentation.

However, active learning strategies are often more effective than passive activities, like listening.

Learn faster

The second reason is related to the first: you can learn faster. Imagine that you are trying to improve your vocabulary in English. Reading books and articles is a fantastic way to improve in English…but it’s a slow way.

Reading should absolutely be part of your plan as a passive strategy. But active strategies like writing in a journal, speaking, giving presentations, having conversations, and doing interviews will all help you learn faster.

Why? When you write in a journal, for example, you’ll search for words that you want to use. When you do that, the process of identifying a problem, finding the answer, and putting it into practice will stick with you.

In this way, you can spend just 15 minutes writing and learn more than you would learn by reading for an hour.

More relevant learning

Active learning is very relevant to language learning. After all, you’re learning a language for a reason, right? And that reason might be:

  • To be able to communicate your ideas
  • To make better contributions at work in English
  • To enjoy travel and conversations
  • To help your kids in school

All of those are active ways of using English. So if you’re going to use it actively, you should be learning it actively.

Ways to learn English actively

Luckily, there are many ways to learn English actively. And many of these activities don’t have to take up too much time. The important thing is to do something active every day.

Here are several ways you can learn actively:

Choose active learning

  • Work with a private instructor
  • Find a conversation partner, talk in front of a mirror
  • Record yourself giving a presentation or a speech
  • Write in a journal, post on social media, answer questions on Quora, e-mail with a friend

Make passive activities active

A lot of what we enjoy about a new language is actually passive learning: listening to music, listening to podcasts, watching TV shows and movies.

However, there are ways to turn passive activities into active ones:

  • Listening: Listen to a short clip multiple times. Write down every word you hear and notice which ones you had trouble understanding.
  • Watching movies: Pick a scene with dialogue and two characters. Write down each character’s lines. With a partner, play the video, mute the sound, and read the lines at the right time.
  • Reading: Highlight words, phrases, and ideas that you recognize but haven’t mastered. Research how they are used and write your own sentences in the same form.

Choose a platform that makes it easy to be an active learner

Many of these activities can be done for free, by yourself. However, it helps to find a platform that gives you the structure you need to succeed.

That way, you:

  • Spend your time learning and not preparing
  • Always have something to do
  • Can use a variety of methods
  • Can get support and help if you need it

We think Plain English Plus+ is a fantastic way to become an active learner (and you can start for just $1!). But whatever platform you choose, remember to stick with it and make a little progress every day.

Learn actively with Plain English Plus+

Three proven ways to help you make faster progress in English

Interactive exercises

Talk, write, listen, and solve problems.

Test your listening, record your voice, fill in the blanks, and answer questions. Then check your work instantly and learn from your mistakes.

Apply what you learn

Put your learning into practice and get personal feedback.

After learning something in Plain English, write your own examples and Jeff will personally read them and provide individual feedback.

Join a live conversation

Boost your speaking skills on live Zoom calls.

Practice with Jeff, JR, and other members on a live conversation call and get the confidence you need to speak in the real world.
Our interactive exercises help you be an active learner in English

Special offer: Join for $1

  • Your first month for $1
  • Zoom call to show you how to use Plain English actively
  • 1-on-1 call if you can’t make the Zoom

All genuine learning is active, not passive. It involves the use of the mind, not just the memory.

Mortimer Adler

How Plain English helps you be an active learner

We designed Plain English Plus+ to help you learn actively.

Here’s a partial list of how we do that:

  • Active listening exercises: Listen to short clips, write every word you hear, and then check your work to see how you did.
  • Active pronunciation exercises: Record your voice (right on Plain English) reading a paragraph. Re-play your own voice and analyze how you sound. Then, listen to Jeff say the same words. Compare your pronunciation to a native speaker.
  • Active problem-solving: Fill-in-the-blanks exercises help you choose the right verb tense and the right preposition. Analyze paragraphs and choose just the right vocabulary word for the situation.
  • Interactive quizzes: How well did you understand each lesson? Take our five-question quiz after each lesson to see how much you retained. Got something wrong? You can go find the answer.
  • Writing prompts: Answer JR’s Question of the Week each Sunday. By writing the answer to a new question, you’ll discover new words and new ways to express your ideas.
  • Live conversation calls: Join a small-group conversation call with Jeff, JR, and other members. Practice speaking in a supportive environment and get the confidence you need in the real world.
  • Personalized feedback: Whenever you learn something in Plain English, you can practice it in writing and get personalized feedback on what you write.

It’s easy to get started

When you sign up for Plain English Plus+, you’ll immediately get access to a brand-new Dashboard, which links to all the active learning resources.

If you join with this special offer, we’ll also invite you to a Zoom call (or a one-on-one call) and we’ll personally show you how to start learning actively with Plain English Plus+.

Start learning actively

Join for $1