How To Master English Prepositions By Yourself

Last Updated on February 15, 2022 by Estrella

How to master English prepositions by yourself
How to master English prepositions by yourself. Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst.

English prepositions seem to be a source of confusion for many ESL learners. I think this is because prepositions are more-clear cut in many languages. Or maybe it’s because there seems to be so many more in English. It can be frustrating to figure out which one is the most suitable in a sentence. Whatever level of English mastery you currently have, the ideas in this article can show you how to master English prepositions by yourself.

I will show you how to use your observation power to learn patterns, and techniques for audio learners, visual learners, and kinesthetic learners.

Simple Ways To Master English Prepositions

One of the quickest ways to learn prepositions is to do a search on YouTube and online blogs. Just type in the search box something like “learn prepositions” or “English prepositions” and see what comes up. If you have already done this, and want to do more advanced work on your own, please keep reading.  I’ll share some methods with you, and you can find the one that fits you best.

A book filled with examples of prepositions used in sentences

If you like to learn with books, there is one that I find to be effective in showing how to use prepositions correctly. Your public library may have it.  I have also seen a few copies sold on Amazon. However, because the book is out of print, if you find a copy, buy it. The title of the book is Prepositions: Dyad learning program by Alice C. Pack.

This book is divided into two sections.  The first has exercises for you to fill in the blanks.   The second has the exact exercises, but with the answers.

Here is how I would use the book.  Start with the half that has the answers. 

Why?  Because reading sentences that use prepositions correctly allows you to observe patterns.  It also uses your intuition.  These are two of the ways we learn our first language.  So we are simply applying the same principles to learn another language.  This seemingly effortless approach is powerful. 

As much as you feel tempted to start with the section that tests your knowledge, I strongly recommend that you don’t. Many of us learned grammar by studying the rules first, then test ourselves by figuring out the answers in exercises.  I believe this approach, although common, is not as effective in absorbing what we learn. 

The purpose of learning is to integrate knowledge into your life.  If you test yourself before you have a good grasp of the skill, you are likely to feel discouraged.  And that is counter-productive to the learning process. 

Example of a very effective language teacher

Learning does not have to be hard.  In fact, the more natural it feels, the better.  When you learned to talk as a child, you learned by observing and by using your intuition, not by testing your knowledge.

Often, when you take a language class, the instructor tests your knowledge soon after the material is introduced. It is actually much more effective for the learning process if the instructor waits a bit longer. Let me give you an example.

After summer vacation, a French teacher named Joanne discovered that her students remember 80-90% of what they learned in her class the previous school year.  This is extraordinary! In most foreign language classes, the average retention is around 20%. So why did her students remember so much more?

She has 2 secrets. One, she does not test her students until she feels they have at least 80% mastery. With this level of mastery, students get higher grades when they take the test.  This encourages them and builds confidence. And confidence contributes to a feeling of success.  The feeling of success in learning is powerful.  Success breeds success.  That’s why those who are at the top of the class often remain at the top of the class.

Joanne’s other secret is making learning fun for her students. She uses games that the children enjoy. When I visited her class, her students couldn’t wait to play the games, all spoken in French!  And this was not an advanced French class. That’s the power of enjoyment in successful learning.

When you enjoy an activity, you are more relaxed.  There is no resistance such as worrying about passing a test.  Fun and relaxation.  The optimal environment to learn.

Techniques for Different Learning Styles to Master Prepositions

I would like to share several techniques that suit your learning style as you work on improving your English prepositions. 

Learning prepositions for audio learners

If you learn better by ear, you might explore this method. When you watch TV, listen to the radio or podcasts, do this for a few minutes. Listen for prepositions in sentences. When you are able to observe usage in daily context, it’s so much easier for you to become clearer on when to use which preposition. You can rewind the podcast to listen to a particular sentence again.

This audio training will help you become familiar with which preposition sounds right in certain context. Over time, this will become a part of your usage too.

Learning prepositions for visual learners

If you prefer to learn visually, pick something you like to read. Magazines, books, blogs, comic books, anything. Instead of paying attention to the content, give more of your focus to how prepositions are used in the context of the sentences. Do this for a few minutes. Then continue reading as you usually do for enjoyment.

You don’t need to study the patterns.  Simply seeing them is enough.  As you do this regularly, you will start to notice your progress.

Learning prepositions for kinesthetic learners

If you are a kinesthetic learner, try this method. Pick something you like to read. Observe how prepositions are used in context.  Then write your own sentences imitating the pattern. Change the noun and verb so you have a new context, but similar enough in pattern that you can use that same preposition. Since you like to involve movement in your learning style, either write or type your imitation sentences. Some people say that writing with your hand helps more than typing. You can experiment with both and see if there is a difference in results.

For example, you read “I have been watching TV for an hour.”

Replace the pronoun.  “She has been watching TV for an hour.”

Now replace the action.  “She has been reading for an hour.” “I have been walking for an hour.”  “They have been studying for 3 hours.”

You see, substituting the words are easy.  But doing so helps you to easily practice the patterns.

Combine Techniques from Different Learning Styles

You can also use all these techniques. One may be more appealing to you one day, and on another day, you might feel like doing something else. Variety is good for the brain. And using more than one sense to learn would enhance the experience.

So, if you want to improve your English prepositions, you can search for “learn prepositions” on YouTube, online blogs, or go to the ESL section of a bookstore. But if you are ready for some advanced techniques, you can play with the methods for audio, visual, and kinesthetic learners. And let your intuition help you with the learning process as you observe patterns. Allow yourself enough time to integrate the skill before testing yourself. Let me know how your experimentation turns out. Send me an email at estrellachan@gmail.com.

If you find this article helpful, here is one on Learning new sounds in a foreign language.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.  To schedule a session with her, please email estrellachan@gmail.com.

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