So, I’ve been thinking again, about all the different methods people use for learning English (or any foreign language, like me learning Czech) and how a lot of people struggle to find the right system or style of learning that suits them the best. Video is my preferred way (sign up for my new course here), but why is that? What about the alternatives?
I know you’ve tried textbooks, and while they can work for some people, they also bore the pants off other people. If you’re one of those people, read on.
Pages are only two dimensional, so that means at the most two learning styles; words and pictures. They also take so long to work through, especially when you don’t have someone to explain to you the bits you don’t understand. However, learning at least some basic grammar from a book is a great way to start. So what else can you do to complement learning from a book?
One to one sessions with a native speaker are a good way to practise what you already know and they are an opportunity to ask your English teacher questions. However, it’s very easy to go with the flow and keep talking without listening. I have found that many of my clients love to speak and love to have deep conversations about all sorts of things from travelling to family life, from sports to spirituality. Often, it seems like people will tell me things in English they would never tell others in Czech. My point is, that although face to face, one to one English lessons with a native speaker are a great way to practise, you are probably not learning as much as you would like. They do, however, bring you confidence and should excite and inspire you.
So what about group sessions and courses? These provide a superb opportunity to learn a lot, quickly, if you can keep up with the group speed that is. On the other hand, maybe you get bored waiting for the slow ones in the group when you want to move on to the next bit. You can also practise talking with others if you have the confidence to speak in front of the group and it’s a great way to meet others who share your passion for learning.
Holidaying and studying in a foreign country (or even living and working abroad) is thought of as the best way to make quick improvements. As you can immerse yourself in the language, you are forced to speak. This is probably the most expensive way to learn but you will make the quickest improvement in your understanding and maybe have the most fun! Since I moved to the Czech Republic my level of comprehension has increased and I have found that I am able to remember new words much easier than when I was learning Czech in the U. K. While I’m recommending it, I understand that for many people it might not be a realistic possibility.
Audio Books etc
I’ll end with what I believe to be two of the worst ideas. Firstly, listening to audio CDs, MP3s or podcasts WHILST DRIVING! You should be concentrating on your driving not trying to remember new words and phrases, let alone complex grammar rules. Stick to the music, that can be English language songs at least. Audio is also only one learning style.
Secondly, and I admit I am also sometimes guilty of using this method, is a reliance on Google Translate or other online dictionaries. These, in my humble opinion, should be kept for the odd word or phrase you don’t understand, not used to translate entire emails, PDFs, articles, web pages, reports or seminar notes etc. Try to work out as much as you can first, because trusting yourself will build your confidence. Then and only then, go back to fill in the gaps using an online translator or old fashioned paper dictionary (remember those?).
Ideally, you might use a combination of these methods. If you have the time (to attend a group, see someone for 1-1 lessons, study at home from a book, listen to audio (safely!) and take a yearly trip to study or practise in a native English speaking country) then you would be covering a number of learning styles giving yourself the best chance to improve quickly and remember what you learn. Studying something everyday is key.
Next week I’ll talk about my favourite way of learning; video. You can sign up now for my free mini course to learn about your most common mistakes. Fill in the form below or click here and I’ll add you to the ‘Better Your English Now’ video mini course list.