Learning English in the vacation

This page gives ESL students advice on how best to spend the long summer vacation.


The long summer vacation is a good time for you to work on improving your English. In fact, if you do nothing at all in the summer, you may find it difficult at the start of the new school year.

It is particularly useful if you can concentrate on the aspects of your English where you are not so strong. If you don't know what they are, ask your ESL teacher.

Improving your English in the summer

Proficiency in English has six components. These are grammar and vocabulary, together with the four skills of listening, speaking, writing and reading.

Reading is the probably best thing you can do in the summer. It is covered in detail below. As to the other five language components, the following links go to pages of information and advice:

The importance of reading

Practising the above English components can be useful. But probably @@ the best thing to do in the summer is to read. Reading in English can increase your vocabulary, improve your spelling, help you learn grammar, and make you a better writer. ~~

Reading English books and discussing them with your parents in your own language is a good way of increasing your understanding of the elements of fiction, For example, how writers describe setting, create interesting and believable characters, develop plot, explore a theme, etc.

It may seem strange, but if you read good fiction and non-fiction in your own language, it will help you in English, too. This is because reading is like any other skill. The more you practise, the better you become.

Reading, especially non-fiction, also increases your knowledge of the world around you, which can help you when you come to study different topics in your school subjects. And once again, discussing what you read with your parents in your own language will help you to deepen your understanding.

All these are good reasons to read, but @ the most important reason is that reading can be such an enjoyable activity. This particularly true when you yourself choose what to read. ~

Here is more on how to be a better reader.

Preparing for next year's subject work

Another very useful way to prepare for the new school year is to find out what topics will be taught in your subject classes in the next grade; for example, in science or humanities.

If you borrow a textbook, you will be able to read up about those topics in advance. Or you could read about the same topics in a textbook or encyclopedia in your own language.

If you discuss what you read with your parents, in your own language, this will help you to understand the topic even better. And you will be well-prepared for the new school year's classes.

Preparing for next year's mainstream English class

If you are taking mainstream English in the next grade level, you could find out which short stories are planned for the year, and read them in advance. I suggest the following method:

  • First read the story quickly all the way through to get an idea of what happens.

  • Then read it again more slowly and carefully. Use your dictionary to look up five or six words on each page that seem to be important for your understanding of the story.

    It's not a good idea to look up all the new words. This would take too long and make the story very boring.

  • Finally read the story again quite quickly for a more complete understanding.

  • When you have finished reading the story, you may wish to talk about it with your parents. Tell them what happens in the story and talk about the characters.

    You might also like to try to answer the questions that follow each story in the book. You could do all this in English for a little extra speaking practice, but that may feel strange.

    In fact, it's probably better to use your own language, because then you can discuss together the important aspects of the story in more detail.

  • In English class, you may have to write in a Reading Response Journal after each story. This is just a small book in which you write some kind of reaction to the story.

    For example, you could write how you felt about the story. If you liked it and why or why not. Another idea is to write about situations from your own life or other books that you have read that were similar to the story. You can decide.

    To give you an idea: the story Zlateh the Goat might remind you of a time that you were in a difficult or even dangerous situation. You could write your about that.

  • If you do write a response in advance in the summer, try to include some of the new words you found in the story. This will help you to remember the words better.

Vacation language courses

Some students like to do a summer language course. Or their parents like them to do it! It can be fun to stay in an English-speaking country and it should help you to improve some aspects of your language.

But it's important to chose the right course, or you may be unhappy and not learn anything. It's a good idea to talk to your ESL teacher if you are thinking of doing a vacation language course.

Instead of doing a language course, you could sign up for an activity holiday organised for native speakers of English. For example, you could attend a basketball or tennis camp, or you could do a computer course. Another possibility would be to learn horse-riding or mountain climbing.

This would be an excellent way to improve your spoken English, learn a new skill and have a good holiday, all at the same time! One British company that offers many different activity holidays is PGL.

Disclaimer: I worked for PGL one summer in the south of France. The young people who participated in the canoeing course all seemed to have a great time.

One last piece of advice

@@@ Don't spend all your summer working on English. You have probably worked very hard all year, and you now need to have a complete rest. ~~~ This will help you be ready for the next school year with renewed energy and enthusiasm.