I am originally from Russia and I've been living in the UK for the past 5 years. I work in IT so the requirements for English are not very high. I speak and write well enough to be understood by my colleagues and other people around me. I understand my colleagues perfectly well, I read a lot of literature, and watch a lot of videos in English. However, I literally can't read Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland since my vocabulary is too small.

I also enjoy speaking the language, and I like its structure a lot. Obviously, I will never be able to speak like a native speaker, but I want to improve my English as much as possible. However, I do not have any immediate need for this (so no external motivation) - just my inner motivation to improve the language.

What would be the best strategy for me? My primary goals are:

  1. Expand vocabulary
  2. Learn how to structure my sentences better. I feel like native speakers structure what they say differently (e.g. naming colors in a particular order?..).
  3. Better understand people's English from different backgrounds (the sound of English I hear in Leicestershire is very much different from what I hear in Glasgow)
  4. Learn how to use "a" and "the" appropriately

My English background:

  1. I learned English formally from 7-20yo.
  2. I have received a PhD degree from an English university

So what is the best strategy for me here?

2 Answers 2


It sounds like you are interested in reading fantasy, but are having difficulty reading Alice in Wonderland. Alice is from the middle of the 19th century and can be difficult today for two reasons. First, it contains many pop-culture references that have been obsolete for a hundred years, and second, the author was very in to playing around with language and making complex jokes.

You can read fantasy in English! I would start with stories that are more recent or closer to your generation. Some good ones to consider are:

  • C. S. Lewis's Narnia series (1950's)
  • Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series (1990's)
  • J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series (1990's - 2000's)
  • 1
    Not a bad idea. Start reading modern fantasy and then move backward through time.
    – AML
    Mar 19, 2019 at 23:22
  • 1
    Harry potter is an excellent recommendation because the level of complexity of the writing ramps up gradually. The first book is basically a kid's book, but by the end, it's getting closer to serious literature.
    – cazort
    Mar 22, 2019 at 18:25
  1. Read (or listen) to more challenging and different things. If you have a particular goal, like reading "Alice in wonderland", then read material with presumably related vocabulary - fairy tales, fantasy, easier and shorter versions of the same story (since it is a classic, these are almost certainly available). Do not worry about understanding all the words - your goal should be to get to the level where you understand most of what is happening. You will guess the meanings of some other words from context and thereby expand your vocabulary. Use an English-English dictionary when you really want to understand some word or when you meet it often enough that not knowing it starts bothering you.

  2. and 4. The first thing to do is to focus on the matter when reading or listening. Start noticing how people structure their sentences and use articles. If you can get someone to point out a type of mistake you do often, or if you learn to recognize one by yourself, you can intentionally use that particular feature and exercise it. If you make a mistake, notice it and say it again. The error should be gone after some time. Drill and practice. Reading an article or two about the grammar can be helpful at your level, as it can help you spot your own mistakes and patterns. When writing, you have time, so when you uncertain about some aspect of grammar or use of a phrase, go and check it. If you do not write regularly, start a blog or start translating sentences on Tatoeba or something similar which requires you to focus on the details of the language.

  3. With Norwegian accents I have occasionally listened to videos with specific accents. I have not focused on this too much, so I can not really tell how effective it has been. I suggest exposure, combined with figuring out what kind of accent they have. If the situation allows it, you might even ask where their accent is from, if it is not impolite in the context. As UK has strong social classes with differences in accent, I would suggest first finding out how to politely discuss the matter.

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