How to improve English to C1 Advanced level: A definitive guide

May 14, 202313 min read

I will tell you exactly what to do at each level to learn English. Believe me, that's what you've been looking for.

Attention: This article explains what to do if you have B1 or higher.

There will be no advice like "Find a partner to talk to." Here will be a specific description of what I did (or would like to do if I went back) to reach C2 and speak almost like a native speaker.

It's also not an easy article to read. It's an instruction with specific steps to complete. Use it as a reference, it contains all my experience. If you feel overwhelmed, pause and come back later. Also, don't start doing everything I will describe all at once. Start small, and add new learning habits on top of that.

I will give you information on improving every aspect of your language skills. Let's go.

There are two types of vocabulary: active and passive. Active is what you use in writing and speech. Passive is something that does not come to mind by itself when you speak or write, but when you see/hear it somewhere, you understand it. If you want to achieve C1 level of English, you need to improve your English vocabulary. Both active and passive, but both at different stages.

Let's say you're on B1, which means you know about 2–3 thounsand words, a few phrases and phrasal verbs, and you can watch English YouTube with subtitles. If you rate yourself higher and are really confident in your knowledge, you should still read everything below: there is very important information written there that applies to all levels.

How to improve English from B1

If your level is B1 or lower, the first thing you need is to improve your active English vocabulary

Exactly, what to do:

  • We will use some language learning apps. Download Anki on your computer. Free for PC, Android, $ 8 for iOS (you can use web version). I emphasize, download it on computer and use it there. This is software for spaced repetition. Spaced repetition works like this: you learned 10 words, repeated them tomorrow, three days after tomorrow, then a week after these three days, a month after that, 3, 6, 12 months, and so on. You repeat all words every on a particular day every day. If you learn 10 words every day, then it will be very painful to remember what to repeat, right? Imagine you learn 10 words today, tomorrow, and for seven days in a row. You'll find it particularly hard to figure out on day 9 what exactly you should repeat today. Therefore, there are special tools that automate repetition of vocabulary for you. Anki is perfect for this.

  • Download the following sets with ready-made flash cards from Anki website:

  • Log in to Anki, be sure to create an account on the site and log in to it in the app. It's very important to set up sync so that your cards won't be lost if your computer blows up.

  • Click on each downloaded file in turn. It will add them into the application.

So, we've got it all covered. What these sets are like:

  • Necessary words for an active vocabulary
  • Necessary phrasal verbs
  • Necessary phrases

Now. You have Anki, you have flashcards. Everything's set up. Let's see how to learn words with flashcards.

There is a card. It has the front side, and the back side. On the front side there is a word/phrasal verb/phrase. On the back one there is a definition and an example of use. It is important that there is at least the thing you want to learn on the front side and both definition and example on the other. Otherwise the effectiveness of your learning will be kinda poor.

Every day Anki shows you the words that you need to repeat, and the words you can learn. Yes, let's use 'words' from now on, but it can be anything, actually.

Since we are developing an active vocabulary, not a passive one, we''ll have to make an effort to really put it into our head. It will not be enough for us to just look at the word, remember its meaning, and then look at the other side with definition and example.

What we are doing instead:

  1. We still look at the word and try to remember its meaning
  2. If we don't remember the meaning, we open the card and look at the side with the answer
  3. Now, important. We come up with our own example and say it out loud. Even better if you continue your speech and talk more about the topic of the word.

Attention: This must be done with each card. Both with those that we repeat, and with the new ones that we learn today. Even if you repeat the card for the tenth time and learned it six months ago, you still need to come up with an example and say it out loud: interval repetition works precisely by increasing the length between each repetition.

What this gives you is that the word solidifes in your mind so much that at some point you find yourself suddenly saying/writing it. You incorporated it into active vocabulary, profit.

It is not necessary to learn new cards every day. What is necessary is to repeat them every day. Why? If you learned words yesterday or three days ago, they desperately need to be repeated today. The brain has a tendency to forget, and interval repetition works precisely to eliminate this forgetfulness. The first few repetitions are the most important. But this does not mean you can fool around and skip repetitions afterwards. Again, spaced repetition produces tangible results only in the long term. You may even forget the word after repeating it 5 times. But for the sixth time you'll actually remember it. You need to repeat every day. You need to learn if you feel like it.

How many English words to learn per day? 7–10. Optimal - 10.

Be prepared that it will take you an hour of time every day, or even more. You have to create examples and talk for every card you repeat and learn. If you want to C1 English level, it'll be blood, sweat and tears.

Decide when you will sit down every day and boost your active vocabulary. For example, you can do it before or after work.

The second thing you need to do on B1 is to buy absolutely any grammar book with (important) theory and exercises, and solve it from beginning to end. Yeah, that's it. Nothing special.

How to improve English from B2 (tips will be relevant for everyone)

Here you don't actually need to improve your active vocabulary so much. You can, and I definitely encourage you to do so, but it's not required anymore.

What you actually should do is:

  • Download WordUp App on your phone
  • Open the list of words
  • Click "should learn" or "already know" for each word, depending on whether you know it. Of course, you don't have to click through all 25000 words. Just click through the list from time to time.

I recommend buying a pro subscription for $10 to gain access to idioms and phrasal verbs. Here's what the app looks like:

How to use flashcards to learn English with WordUp:

  • Only the first step of the active vocabulary strategy: we look at the word and try to remember its meaning If you skipped here, I advise you to go back and read everything. I explained why it is important to repeat at least every day. Ideally, and learn every day, too.
  • Learn words every (at least almost every) day. Here you expand your passive vocabulary, and the more you know, the better. I recommend learning about 10 words a day. In a year, you'll expand your passive vocabulary by approximately 3650 words.

How to improve English speaking (relevant for everyone, necessary for B1):

Take English texts and retell them. Let me explain how to do it painlessly:

  1. Read the first paragraph, retell it in your own words. Absolutely, I repeat, absolutely no need to try to be as close to the text as possible. Your task is to learn how to express a thought, not to answer in front of a teacher. If you wish, you can add something of your own, it will only be a plus.
  2. Read the second paragraph. Retell it in our own words.
  3. No, don't read the third one. Retell the first and second.
  4. Read the third one.
  5. Retell it, then all three.
  6. Read the fourth one.
  7. Retell it, then retell all four. And you finish the text. I promise, it won't hurt and will take about 20–30 minutes. Again, do it after something or before something: you need a habit, and for it you need a trigger (which is your before or after)

How to improve English listening skills

B1: Watch YouTube with subtitles for 2 months on topics of interest to you, then we start watching without subtitles. It worked for me at that point. Movies and TV shows are too complicated here, don't watch them now.

B2: Watch YouTube without subtitles, watch movies and TV series with subtitles. Ideally, watch TV series for several hours a day. After about 3 months, you will notice that you begin to understand speech significantly better. Don't turn off subtitles in the TV series. Even after three months.

C1: If you've been watching TV shows for some time, try turning subtitles off. If you haven't, watch with subtitles. Perception of real-life like speech (the one in movies, not on YouTube) is a separate skill. You can pass IELTS to 7.0, understand everything in Game of Thrones with subtitles and understand nothing without them. It's OK. Again, auditory perception is something you have to train separately.

All levels. Absolutely necessary: Improve pronunciation. At the end I will explain why I put it here, in listening, but not in speaking.

Specifically, how to do it:

  1. Find any guide on YouTube that explains every sound existing in the language.
  2. Repeat after the author.
  3. When practising speaking, make sure to use the sounds in the words
  4. If you don't know how to pronounce a word, open any dictionary and memorize how to pronounce it according to transcription. Actually, after learning all the sounds you'll find yourself able to read it, you know? Sounds simple. However, there's a but. It's going to hurt. Really. Why did I put it here? Thanks to the pronunciation boost, you will receive several bonuses at once:
  5. You will understand speech better because your brain will learn to distinguish sounds. You will hear the difference in sit and seat (and it is not in sound length, by the way, as they might teach you in school).
  6. Your speech will be easier to understand. And no, it is actually difficult for native speakers to understand a bad accent, contrary to popular belief that you will be understood. Yes, you will be understood, but the one you speak to will have to rack their brain to figure out what you mean. From their point of view, do you want to constantly try to make out what your partner is saying when you are discussing an important matter?
  7. If you are interviewing in English, you will sound much more confident and are more likely to pass the interview
  8. If you are a technical specialist and the company you want to join requires English, then when evaluating your level, your pronunciation will significantly improve your English assessment, and you will be chosen, not another candidate.
  9. If you take IELTS, you will not be penalised for bad pronunciation.
  10. Once you have mastered most of the sounds and intonation, you and people around you will be in a state of ecstasy from your English

How to improve English reading skills:

B1: Google in English. Use a browser extension with a translator to select a word on a page and get a translation. Read articles on topics of interest. For example, if you are a software developer, read about the tech stack you use.

B2: Same as B1. Apart from that, try to read simple books. They are harder than articles on the internet. But read them, you already can.

C1: Read the literature in the original, and do everything described for B1 and B2. Additionaly, instead of a translator extension, you can use something like Power Thesaurus to show synonyms of the selected word. It will make you think in English a bit more. Additionally, for all levels:

  • Translate your phone and computer into English
  • Write notes in English
  • If you have money, buy classes with a native speaker. A good resource is italki, or something else, whatever.
  • Learn blind typing with ten fingers in English.
  • Find out what word formation exercises are. Google them and practice. It will get better over time as you come across the same forms of the word. This will help you make your speech a bit more specific and concise.

That's all. Now let's summarize.

Going up from B1/B2/C1 takes much more time and effort than going from A1. The higher your level, the longer it takes you to jump to the next one and the more work you need to apply. If you are willing to spend only 30 minutes a day being on B1, then you will improve very slowly (but, well, you will). Learn at least 2–3 flashcards a day and repeat everything. At the B1 level, this is very important. Optimally spend an hour for an active vocabulary, 20–30 minutes for text retelling. You don't have to retell a text every day, but you do have to repeat. If you need to extract one conclusion from the article (which is impossible, btw, but imagine you try), it will be 'Repeat. Every. Day.'

On B2 and above, it will be fine to spend 30–40 minutes on vocabulary, because you don't need to spend a lot of time coming up with examples and talking for every card. Again, here practising passive vocabulary is your primary objective. Telling texts is still desirable in order to practice speaking.

Understand that only self-discipline and habits can achieve a high level of English. There is no magic way to "easily and simply" learn English.

With that, I let you go. I advise you to use this guide as a reference and return to it as necessary. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me. You can find my email and social network links on 'About' page.

Sending hugs to everyone. Have a nice day.

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