5 Easy Ways to Improve Your English in 140 Characters or Less: Using Twitter as a Language Learning Tool

If you do a Google search on “how to improve my English,” you’ll find thousands of websites, podcasts, articles and blogs screaming at you with tips and tricks on how to increase your vocabulary, improve your accent or pump-up your conversation skills. But one thing you won’t find (unless you do a lot of digging), is how to use social media networks, like the micro-blogosphere Twitter, to strengthen your English skills.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “But Kelly, I only use Twitter to tell everyone what I am doing, feeling and thinking every minute of the day, how is this going to help me with my English?”

You would be right; according to a recent survey by Pear Analytics, 40% of tweets consist of “pointless babble,” which is your average high-school girl updating her status every 2 minutes during study hall. And only 9% of tweets are of “pass-along value,” meaning that they contain any sort of useful information. Let’s not get confused, Twitter isn’t Wikipedia. It is at its origin a social-media gadget. But Twitter can also be a useful learning tool and the perfect platform to practice English structure, idioms and phrases!

Here are 5 easy, fast ways to use Twitter to learn (more) English:

1)      Use the Search function to discover the meaning of words.

One way to use Twitter is to search for a word or phrase that you aren’t sure how to use. Your results will turn up hundreds of examples of this word in action. Take for example the phrase “safe and sound” which English speakers use to express: “free from danger or injury.” Searching this phrase brings back examples like: “Landed safe and sound at LAX. Waiting for Pat to come get me…” or “Is your family back safe and sound yet?”

2)      Learn the words that the cool kids use with @Urbanword.

The urban dictionary is not your regular Merriam-Webster dictionary. It’s chock-full of useful and funny newly-created words that are popular with today’s generation. You’ll find some phrases that you definitely would not find in a “normal” dictionary. They offer an “urban word of the day” with a definition and an example sentence on how to use the word. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when I read the word of the day for January 3rd; Guac-blocked : When you’re at a party and all you really want is to get some guacamole dip and chips, but one of your fellow party-goers is drunkenly blocking your path to the guac.

Sarah had gotten her drink and was ready to get some snacks, but unfortunately she was guac-blocked by Cody, who had moved between her and the food.

3)      Play games with @sentencemaster.

Sentence master offers free word games and writing exercises every day to help you master the written English word. Practice your writing skills with the grid quizzes. They’ve got complicated instructions, but are really worth the effort.

4)      Get your daily dose of grammar and humor with @grammargirl.

Grammar Girl deals up loads of grammar tips with a sassy sense of humor. You can even tweet your grammar questions and doubts for her to answer. Check out this tweet on punctuation in letters, it’s a goodie!

5)      Analyze British and American English differences with @lynneguist, or is it analyse?

Confused by the differences between British English and American English? Lynne is an American linguist living in the UK and offers “differences of the day,” little tidbits explaining which country uses which version of a certain word. So what do you think? Do Brits prefer “film” or “movie”?

Bonus tip! Twitter is a great way to communicate and talk with people all over the world. Unlike Facebook or Myspace, you don’t have to be “friends” with the person to talk to them.  Why not strike up a micro-conversation with someone living in an English-speaking country? Or become a follower of a famous American actor like Ashton Kutcher? The micro-world is your oyster!