Curate your own content.
My favorite resources on the internet to create
a focused practice
Hey Daring Learners,
The number #1 question I get asked is "What's the best resource to practice English?"
What people mean by that is:
- What's the best YouTube channel to watch to improve my speaking skills?
- What podcast should I listen to if I want to improve my pronunciation?
- What book should I buy to improve my grammar?
- What Instagram accounts should I follow to expand my vocabulary?
The truth is that there are no correct answers because the people are asking the WRONG questions.
When you ask the wrong question, you get too many answers
, but none of them work for you
.There are too many Youtube channelsToo many teachersToo many online courses Too many grammar rules to keep in mindToo many podcasts to listen to... and too many movies to choose from.
The TRUTH is that you should curate your own content instead of mindlessly consuming what shows up in your feed
I will show you how I do it, and maybe you'll feel inspired to start filtering information from your environment.I organize my content in collections: video, audio, and text.
I also use a bookmark manager to help myself navigate the content.
When I sit down to practice, I never
ask myself: What should I do today? What video is good for me? Which podcast episode should I listen to in order to practice my listening skills?
I do everything in my power to spend ZERO time browsing the internet hoping to find a good video to practice my English. Instead, I open my collections and spend 5 seconds max to choose the right content my exercise. FOCUS comes first.
My collections are organized according to the focus of my practice.
If I practice the skill of "Summarizing"
information and creating brief, clear, succinct, and concise messages, I need examples to learn from, and I need content to practice with.
All my collections include two types of content
: examples and practice material.
Both types of content can include video, text, and audio.
Remember that the least challenging type of content is text
. Then comes video
is the most challenging type of content to work with.Here are my FOCUS collections:
- Intensive Listening
- Clear Explanations
- Under #15 min
All of these collections are available in the community too as hashtags. Simply put any of the words above in the search bar.
I use this bookmarking manager
to organize my collections.
When I'm ready to do my listening practice, I don't go to Google or YouTube hoping to find something good enough (if I do, I'll waste hours of precious time!). No, I go to my saved bookmarks. Choose what you like.
Many people make the mistake of choosing the content they were told to choose. They choose long texts about economic inequalities hoping to find challenging enough vocabulary for their "level", even though they'd rather read about fashion trends or parenting advice. They watch videos about the English language
instead of videos in English and about
the things they genuinely like.
If you are obsessed with boxing
, it's okay if all the content you're consuming at this stage of your life is about boxing.
If you love cooking
, it's okay to use recipe videos and food blogs in your practice. My BIG themes are self-development, cooking, baking, teaching, cognition, storytelling, relationships, and self-regulation.
Let's say, I want to read out loud
to practice the rhythm of English. My selection process looks like this:
I go to my TEXT collection --> I open a book on a random page --> I start reading --> My result is a 10-15 min audio that sounds like an audio book.
When I need to work with TEXT, I choose from this list:
- Seth Godin's blog (an amazing resource to learn brevity, clarity, and copywriting in English. All posts are super short and they all have ONE BIG IDEA. I use this blog to read out loud, do the summarizing exercise, and look for good examples of brevity)
- More to That. An amazing blog on storytelling. I use it to read some paragraphs out loud, create vocabulary exercises for myself and the community members, summarize long texts, practice tenses in my stories, and learn effective storytelling techniques.
- My collection of fiction books. They are all available for the community members. I am currently working with E. Hemingway's books - "Green Hills of Africa" and "For whom the bell tolls". I simply open any of these books on a random page and start reading. I don't overcomplicate or overthink it. I know that I won't finish the book , and I'm okay with that. I know that I will finish my exercise. I don't have the time to read ALL these books, but I can use ALL of them to add variety, joy, and novelty to my practice.
5.I go to my collection of Magazines if I want to practice delivering my ideas with confidence, improve my diction, and see more examples of brevity. I read about 10 headlines out loud, and it's a great exercise in and of itself. If you're a community member, watch the demonstration here - Exercise #62. Breaking NEWS! FOCUS: business vocabulary & diction
You are welcome to use my collection of Magazine issues. It's here in the community.
6.I choose one of the Farnam Street
Articles. For example, this one - Your Thinking Rate Is Fixed
. The articles are long. I will use them to summarize good ideas, read some paragraphs out loud, and use their blog posts to inspire my spontaneous speaking practice.
7.I also like James Clear's blog
. He is a master of structured writing. I pay close attention to how to begins his paragraphs and connects seemingly unrelated ideas. I will read 2-3 paragraphs out loud and highlight the transition phrases or connectors in color. Then I practice using the same in my own writing. His 3-2-1 newsletter
is also great if you're looking for short insightful quotes to read out loud.
8.Mark Manson's blog
. I'll be honest, I used to enjoy his blog way more in the past... but I still haven't deleted his website from my favorites. I rarely read his work out loud, but if HE reads his own posts out loud, I'll listen!
We have some of his audio tracks in the Resource Library (read more about it below)
. What I learn from him is how to ask good questions and give simple analogies to explain complex ideas.
9.Food blogs with recipes
. Even if you don't cook, check them out! Each blog tells a story, and they are wonderful examples of how to add sensory details
to my stories in English. I like reading only the first paragraphs
out loud. They are usually personal or descriptive. I pay attention to transition phrases and sensory ADJECTIVES! Here are a few examples: Vegan Chocolate Mousse Tart
or Small Chocolate Tahini Cake
Curating VIDEO is easier. I created a private Practice Playlist on Youtube, and whenever I come across a good video, I simply add it to my playlist.
- I like videos that EXPLAIN things well. Here are a few examples from my playlist: What Overusing Social Media Does To Your Brain, What We Get Wrong About Negotiation, How to Get Back on Track After Slipping Up, The Most Important Rule for Writing. I use this type of content for my vocabulary practice because I agree with the ideas in the videos, and I need to communicate the same, but the words and phrases that I use today are not clear and precise enough to deliver these compelling messages to native-speaking audiences. My favorite exercises for such videos are "intensive listening" and "summarizing". I usually work with 1-5 min from each video.
- Actors on Actors is a wonderful resource to learn what spontaneous and confident conversations sound like. I use these videos do the transcribing exercise. I usually work with 1 or 2 minutes. I pay attention to intonations, pauses, pitch, and to how they answer tough questions with humorous examples and true stories. I always read my transcript out loud trying to imitate their pauses and intonations. I also use these videos to do the "intensive listening exercise," which helps me acquire good vocabulary for my own stories and videos.
- TED. It's a great resource to practice the rhythm of English. I will use a 45-second piece for one "TED karaoke" exercise. I don't do more! I always use the interactive transcript to teach myself how to pause, where to pause, and for how long. Try following the interactive transcript as you listen to a TED-talk video and pay attention to where they pause. Pause the video after each thought chunk and repeat it out loud, following their lead. If you don't know what a thought chunk is, it's a group of words that creates a meaningful thought. Here is a good demonstration on Youtube. If you want to practice thought chunking, and not only watch videos about it, search for "rhythm" and "though chunk" in the community. Also, check out two practice routines with the words "Sentence Stress" in the title here.
- Ted-Ed series on Youtube. I use these videos to learn to structure my own explanations. I will do the summarizing exercise and practice explaining the same thing in no more than 5 min.
- Amy Walker and her series about Accent. Check out How To Learn Any Accent or American Accent Essentials. I listen and repeat after her. This counts as an exercise. She's awesome.
- The Cottage Fairy Blog. Check out this video - I didn't have friends most of my life - being ‘unsocial’ and finding belonging. I found her videos thanks to a community member who shared them with me. This girl lives in a small cottage and documents her life. In her videos, she does a lot of self-reflection. Her messages sound articulate, clear, sincere, and very warm. I go to her videos when I want to practice expressing what's inside, explain my motivation, or self-reflect in English. The exercises that I do with her videos: 1) I will watch the entire video and then use the questions that she raised as journaling prompts for myself. 2) the transcribing exercise 3) the synchronization exercise 4) the intensive listening exercise. If you search these exercises in the community, you will find specific examples and can see my process of doing them.
I keep it simple. I listen to audio books and podcasts. When I see an interesting episode, I save it in my Apple Podcasts app for later. I open my "saved" collection and listen to the episodes when I walk, do my morning beauty routine, or cook. But...this is not practice yet.This is how I turn "listening on the go" into "focused practice":
- I listen very attentively. That's why I listen to audio in English only if my mind is not challenged with something else. Walking or other activities that do not require intellectual effort allow me to fully concentrate on the audio. When I hear an interesting idea, I immediately take a screenshot to help myself find this moment later. Here is what it looks like ⬇️. Now I know the exact time stamp, and I can easily go back to this idea and listen again.
When I have 20-30 min, I open my screenshots, go back to this time stamp, and do the transcribing or the summarizing exercise
with this audio.
2.I listen to audio books exactly the same way as described above.
3.When I look for something specific (let's say, I want to listen to ALL the episodes with James Clear on different shows), I use ListenNotes
. It's like Google for podcasts.
4. I DO NOT listen to language learning podcasts. BBC English and stuff like that bores me tremendously...
I only listen to authentic content, i.e. created by native speakers for native speakers.
I shared my audio book collection in the community
My favorite podcast shows are: REthinking with Adam Grant
, The Daily Stoic
, Deep Questions with Cal Newport, Think Fast, Talk Smart
, Behind the Human
, and a few more... I often use them in my practice.
"This email has TOO MANY LINKS! They all must be good, but... I won't have the time to check out each resource" - this might be the thought you're thinking right now.
I shared 25+ links with you in this email. The internet contains billions more... I don't have time for billions of potentially good links and millions of potentially good books. That's why I curate my own content and carefully select what I read, watch, and listen to.
Because I know exactly where to go when I want to practice, my practice is simple, yet very efficient.
I know that it's very tempting to watch another video, and then listen to another podcast, and then check out a new Netflix show, and then watch a hundred of Instagram reels...This cycle is endless, but it gets people nowhere. They spend too many hours consuming content, and zero minutes practicing their skills.
My advice for you: start curating your own content. Create a YouTube Playlist for the videos that are worth watching again. Organize your podcasts. Use a bookmark manager to save the texts that you want to read out loud.
Unfortunately, even when people do organize their playlists and bookmarks, they often don't know how to practice with this content. And... they're not supposed to. A student is not supposed to do a teacher's job. However, every teacher is supposed to be a good learner.
Even better advice: don't think about choosing content. Focus on choosing your exercise. I started the community of practice knowing that it's difficult for people to find, choose, and organize useful content. There's simply too much of it, and people are never sure if what they have found is good enough. Should they maybe look for a better video? Better audio? Better text? In the community of practice, ALL the exercises are good for you. ALL the content is carefully selected to help you focus on your practice instead of distracting you with exciting, but useless information.
I give ONE and the SAME piece of advice to new community members: choose intuitively. It will work because you'll be choosing from the carefully curated library, and not from random pages on the internet.
By the way, you get FREE access to my Resource Library if you opt for the annual membership. It's designed to help you make use of your time. You will never have to suffer choosing. Click on any movie scene, poem, podcast episode, audio book, or a true story, get step-by-step instructions to develop your speaking and listening skills, submit your work, and receive individual feedback.
Not sure where to begin?
Try these FREE exercises.
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© Copyright 2023 Natalia Tokar