I often tell people that I don't get much free time to watch movies, which is true. Nonetheless, I try to make the most of the few ones I get to watch.
When I watch a movie, I make sure to follow it up with some mini-research (mostly on Wikipedia) if it presents any interesting new piece of information; be it fact or fiction I learn all the same! Of course, not every movie gives me something to read about, but I try not to miss my after-movie review when I come across the few ones that do.
As an instance, I have recently watched the "The Theory of Everything" -- one of a number of movies that have been created to document the life of renowned scientist, Stephen Hawking. That movie revealed a lot more about a man whom, although I have long admired, I had only skimmed the bits of his life and journey. Watching the movie brought me closer to his personality, achievements and also importantly, his medical condition.
This kind of learning is not your everyday classroom setting or some online tutorial; well, of course we never learn everything from the classroom! However, my point is that these movies -- the good ones -- do not only serve to entertain us, but present us knowledge alongside. Some would call this "edutainment". It is indirect learning, but I can tell you for certain that this is one way I've picked up knowledge of many things I would ordinarily not seek for.
What's more? Movie production crews are very mindful of their usage of time, so they tend to cramp it all to fit within the conventional 1-2 hour duration of screen time, hiding some details in the process. This is especially evident with movies that are book-based.
But it's not all movies. There are of course, other sources I learn from.
While I have not really taken any writing course despite my yearnings for qualitative writing, I have over time continued to gauge the quality of my writings both with the help of some kind reviewers and through self review, I am always glad to hear positive comments; and I make certain to improve on the negative ones.
But most importantly, I learn and improve -- almost passively -- from simply taking in other people's works. When I scour the net for information or read blog posts or articles, I am not just getting what I need at that moment, but I am also taking in, albeit subconsciously, the presentation style of the document.
For example, one of such rich places, content wise, is Quora. The top writers (people who often give good answers to questions and get frequent upvotes from other members of the Quora community) are often very articulate and neat in their prose. So somehow, again subconsciously, I have been taking cues from those.
Also, when you chat, try to avoid the use of SMS language. In my opinion, it negatively affects your writing. Sometimes I'd unconsciously use "pls" instead of "please" while writing formally. Also, I use chats as playground for practicing good sentence constructions. So, I don't abbreviate unnecessarily, and I try to use punctuations appropriately. I advise you do same.
As a side note, I find that even though my writing is not exactly top-notch, when I re-read stuff I have written ten days later, I am usually quite impressed and can make improvements. So as a word of advice, "do not despise the days of your little beginnings." Just do it.
I also take time to listen to talks (especially TED talks) and podcasts. Whether it be commuting time, or time I'm doing some laundry, I try to maximise my use of time; who says multitasking is a myth?
In fact, in crowdsourcing for academic paper suggestions, one of the folks who answered my question on Quora suggested I read transcripts of TED talks. It wouldn't come as a surprise to anyone conversant with these talks that they are so rich and insightful. They bring to you a wide array of perspectives from different minds across the globe. Bottom line is, whether you agree with their postulations or not, you learn!
If you'll keep these points in mind as you explore life, you'll find that there are lots of activities that can educate you and give you pleasure at the same time. Try to learn from all of your day-to-day activities and life experiences. So if an activity doesn't somehow benefit you whilst eating into your time, do your hardest to abstain from it.
Some tips for getting better at English usage:
- Read widely; cross-genre reading
- Play word games (crosswords, scrabble, ...)
- Watch (and listen to) English speakers with intent
- Make the dictionary, thesaurus and any other similar lookup book (e.g. references for idioms, phrasal verbs) your friends
- Participate in online English communities. An example is the ##English channel on IRC
- Write consciously, and often
- Speak English confidently