How do you learn English – here are four things you should, and four things you shouldn’t do if you want to improve your English
1. Don’t study
We have this image that English learning must be in a classroom, with books with a teacher, or at your desk, with books or maybe through a website or app. Study feels like a dry, passive process when you have this image. But it doesn’t need to be like this!
Brain research shows that we remember best when we have a strong need for the language. So you need to put yourself into situations where you need to use language. There are different ways to need language. If you’re reading you need to remember lots of words and fit them into the grammar to make sense of it all. When you’re speaking you need to recall and pronounce words correctly in order to be understood.
So instead of studying, put yourself into situations where you need to use English. And vary them. So join a conversation club, and also watch movies in English, and read a book, and use an app. Use different things in order to make your brain need to remember, recall and use your English. When you find something that you want to understand better or use better then hit the books and study the part you need.
2. Don’t immerse yourself
Do you sometimes feel that if you live in an English-speaking country you would automatically get better at English? Unfortunately, it’s not true. While you might improve to some extent, when you’re living in a foreign country you might find you’re in survival mode – after all you need to sleep, eat and look after yourself, all of which can be done with basic language.
When you’re immersed you might find you panic, and your brain switches off and you’re not learning anything anyway.
Instead use joy more in your learning routine. When you’re enjoying yourself everything will feel easier and if problems do arise your brain is better able to deal with them than if you’re feeling stressed and nervous.
3. Don’t have goals
Goals are really hard to get right. They’re so hard to get right we even need an acronym to remember how to make a good goal, that’s SMART. Can you remember what the letters stand for? It’s specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. Five elements you need to get your goal perfect.
It’s hard to get goals right so let’s be clear that there are two types. As polyglot and language learning coach Kerstin Cable says you need two kinds of goals – your vision – where you’ll be in 5/10/20 years with your language. and 2, the path goals to get you moving towards that vision.
Your vision can be huge, like giving a TED Talk all in English, or writing a novel. Your path goals will help you break it down into smaller parts like learning about narrative tenses or focusing on the structure of a great talk. Your path goal will help you decide what to do this week, so you’ll end up on the right path to your huge vision.
4. Don’t worry about your study style
Are you an auditory learner, a visual learner or a kinesthetic learner? I don’t know and really it doesn’t matter. Because in different times, different places and with different topics you might be all three of these styles.
Be open to learning in different ways and with different materials or resources. If for example, podcasts don’t work for you, try reading instead. If reading is not your thing try videos. Don’t feel as if you always have to use the same method because that is your learning style.
And don’t forget it’s what works for you. If you like writing out grammar formulas and filling in conjugation tables – do that! If you want to watch movies all day long do that! Don’t worry about your study style because that’s fake science.
5. Do make friends
This is the key to learning another language. While watching movies, playing games and listening to music are important and you should definitely do these, the key to actually speaking English is having friends to talk to.
Once you have some friends that you enjoy talking with you’ll want and need to learn some more words in order to communicate more effectively, and this need is really powerful. It’s a much stronger reason to study than just because your teacher says you must.
Look for people to talk to on exchange sites like Hello Talk or Conversation-exchange.com. Be clear about when and how you can meet, face-to-face, or online, in the mornings, or evenings. And include a little bit about you, your interests and dreams so someone can start a conversation with you.
6. Do think differently.
Do you feel like English is your language? Do you feel like it’s still a foreign language to you? If you feel like this try a mind swap – English is my language and I can use it.
English is your language. No one owns English, it’s not American or British, or Australian or Indian…it really is a global language. You can have your own English style and be proud of that. This might be difficult to accept but as soon as you do accept that, English will become so much easier for you.
People will judge your English. Unfortunately, some people seem to think that English needs to be protected – that it’ll all collapse if one person makes one mistake. But to those people I say ‘You’re not the language police, and you are wrong to judge others on their use of English. Stop it.’
7. Do strive to be better
I like this word ‘strive’ – it means to make an effort to achieve or improve or obtain something I choose to strive to be better at English, rather than worry about it, or feel pressure to be better, It’s a self-directed word – it means I choose it, it’s not something that I’m obliged to do.
You know the saying ‘A teacher can open the door, but only the student can walk through’? That’s all I can do, I can give you great lessons, homework, advice, but you have to choose your way – try it yourself, or ignore it.
And also English is not like air or water, your body doesn’t just absorb it and use the nutrients automatically. If you sit in English class every day for 6 years you will not automatically become fluent. If you watch 100 videos, you won’t be automatically fluent. You need to use your brain to make English work for you.
8. Do change if it doesn’t work
If things are not working for you, change it. Some methods might work for a certain period and then you have to find a different way to do things.
You’ve done great in your study so far, and you’ve made it to the end of this blog! Well done! Now what can you do to make a step up? Just a tiny baby step up for now. If you think everything is fine – ok no need to change. But if you’re feeling stuck and bored you need to change something.
It could be that you need a different teacher, a different app or maybe you just need a rest. Resting is great for your brain, actually, research suggests you do not forget everything you’ve learnt. Instead your brain is busy processing and filing away that information. When you come back to study you might find you’re remembering and recalling things more easily than before.
So go take a rest now!
What do you think, which things will you change about your English mindset, your habits and your joy? Let me know, below!
And if you want an instant English boost join me for a whole day of English conversation, via voice messages. It’s a fun and easy way to boost your confidence. Find out more here