english conversationStudying English in an English-speaking country is a great way to improve your language skills quickly. Focusing on English for several hours a day in class will build your knowledge. However, the most successful English students know a secret: If you only speak English in the classroom, you are missing a lot of free help!

Think about your typical day as a student in the U.S. Perhaps you get up early to exercise at the local gym. Later, maybe you stop at Starbucks to get some coffee and review for a test before class. After your morning classes, you and some classmates walk to a nearby park to enjoy your lunch. When class ends, you sit in the school lobby for 20 minutes waiting for your friend to finish class. In the evening, you buy food at the grocery store before going back to your apartment, stopping at your mailbox before going inside.

How many opportunities did you have to practice English? Did you greet the employee at the front desk when you arrived at the gym? What about the other people exercising—did you ask someone how to use a machine or get a suggestion on which exercise class to try? At Starbucks, did you chat about the weather with the barista or ask the person in line behind you about the book in his or her hand? What about the man walking his dog at the park, the secretary in the school lobby, the produce clerk in the grocery store, the neighbor checking her mail?

There are many people besides your teachers who can help you learn English. Some people feel uncomfortable talking to strangers even in their native language. That’s normal. If you challenge yourself, though, you will find that two things happen. Talking to strangers will get easier (and you may even make a friend). And your spoken English will develop more quickly.