More and more people are regularly using videos made by teachers on YouTube to improve their English.

It is easy to see why a lot of English learners are using YouTube videos to help them improve their English. They are free, quick to watch and you can watch them again and again.

But is watching them a good and effective way for you to improve your English with? Or are they a waste of your time?

The answer is for some things they are good, but for other things they aren't. And below I will tell you what I recommend you should and shouldn't use them for.

What YouTube videos are good for

There are 3 things which I recommend you use these videos for:

  • Improving Grammar (Where a teacher explains how to use grammatical concepts correctly.)
  • Learning Study Tips/Advice (Where a teacher explains to you ways how to study better and quicker.)
  • Improving Pronunciation (Where a teacher gives you a method or teaches you how to say English words correctly.)

For these things, YouTube videos are very useful and if the person is good at what they do (because not all of them are), they will help you a lot.

What YouTube videos are bad for

There are 2 things which I recommend you don't use these videos for:

  • Improving Listening
  • Improving Vocabulary (Where a teacher tells you the meaning of words and phrases and when to use them.)

It is wrong of me to say that watching YouTube videos that try to improve your English vocabulary and listening are bad for you (because they aren't). But they aren't really effective at helping you to improve either of them.

Why they won't really help you

The reason why YouTube videos are not that effective at helping you to improve your listening skills is because when you are watching a video, it is very easy to stop listening to what the people are saying and just watch what they are doing or read the subtitles if the video has them.

With improving your English vocabulary, most YouTube videos are ok if you already know what the vocabulary they are teaching you means, but most of them (there are some exceptions) are not very good if you don't. The reason why is because being told by someone what new words or phrases mean and when to use them is the worst method for learning and understanding them. The best method for learning them, is not being told, but working out/discovering their meaning and use by yourself. And it is the process of thinking about what a word means and when it is used that will make you remember it. And this doesn't happen when watching a video of a teacher in front of a whiteboard telling you what words and phrases mean and when they are used.

I did a test with some my students (without them knowing) to see how much vocabulary they learnt, understood and remembered after watching both a English vocabulary YouTube video on marriage vocabulary and then an online written exercise on family vocabulary.

For both, I then asked them 2 days later what vocabulary they had learnt. They did remember some of the vocabulary from the YouTube video, but not much and they were not completely sure about what the words that they did remember meant. With the written exercise they remembered a lot more of the vocabulary (but not all) and generally they understood correctly each word's meaning.

Better ways to improve your listening and vocabulary

To improve your listening more effectively and quicker than YouTube, I recommend that you listen to podcasts or the radio. These are free and you can listen to them on your mobile/cell phone wherever you are.

To see a list of recommended podcasts to improve your listening, read my article on 'Excellent podcasts for students learning English'.

To improve your vocabulary, I would recommend that you regularly read in English and do online written exercises which are designed to help English learners to improve their vocabulary (like the exercises you can find on this website).

When doing these, the best way to make sure that you understand and remember the vocabulary you see is to use the context (the sentence and topic of the text) where you find the word or phrase to guess its meaning and use. By doing this, it will help you to both really understand what it means and remember it in the future.

In conclusion

To make the best use of your time, use YouTube videos to help you with understanding grammatical structures, to learn study tips/advice and for pronunciation. But don't use them for improving your listening or for improving your vocabulary.

Although both listening to podcasts/the radio and learning vocabulary by reading and doing online written exercises is more difficult and takes longer then watching a 10 minute video on YouTube, you'll improve your level of English a lot quicker.

You have to remember that learning or improving your level of English isn't easy or quick. It takes a lot of time and practice. But by doing the things that I have recommended, you'll use your time better and improve your English quicker.

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