“Every learner is unique”

Tips from our teachers:
|| Michael B in Brussels ||

Michael B who teaches English in Brussels shares what he finds makes English such an interesting language and how you can go about learning it.

‘Tips from our teachers’ is a regular series we run on our blog where we ask our teachers to shares tips and advice on improving their language skills.

Pronunciation and spelling make English unique

I think the most interesting thing about teaching English is with regards to pronunciation and spelling. English is a language that borrows words from so many languages, mostly from French and German, and its lack of consistency can be understandably frustrating to learners.

I have taught learners whose first language was German, others whose first language was French, and others whose first language was neither of those two. The issues with spelling and pronunciation that we came across were all unique, they were all very different issues from one another.

The longer I teach English, the more I learn about etymology. I find it to be very interesting to discover the origins of English words and phrases. It makes me a more conscious English language user as well as a teacher of the language.

Consistency and interaction

When you’ve decided to start learning English, you should focus on what’s important when learning a new language.

I have a tie for two things: consistency and interaction.

Consistency is the most important because learners need to form a habit with their language learning practice. 30 minutes of language study when you first wake up works for some people, one hour before bed works for others, using a language app during your morning commute might work for someone else. No matter what, practicing your target language every day at the same time of day is the most important part of learning a language.

A close 2nd is interaction. As a language learner, you have to speak the language. It isn’t enough to silently learn vocabulary, listen to audio tapes, and study in grammar books. All of these things are important, but the most 2nd most important part of a language is to use the language with other people, preferably native speakers who are willing to speak slowly and be patient with you.

To keep improving, find what works for you and create a habit

Naturally, you also need to do a lot of work outside of lessons to really start seeing results. How you do that, however, is somewhat up to you, because every learner is unique.

When I study a language, I use a combination of passive audio training, paper grammar books, and an app on my phone that works on basic grammar. I have heard of other students preferring to study only digitally and making significant progress. Others find a way to immerse themselves completely, speaking only the target language as often as possible.

The more time a learner spends immersing themselves in the target language, the better results they will get. However, we all have lives, some learners are busy and work at a slower pace. That’s just fine!

The thing I would emphasize most is consistency. Find what style of learning you can commit to, every weekday, and slightly longer sessions on the weekends. If you can commit to only 15 minutes a day, then do that! It’s far better to work on a language for 15 minutes a day than for one hour every four days, even though the amount of time spent is identical. Once learners form good learning habits, then the process will begin showing results.

Create a learning schedule

You should also keep in mind the timing of your learning. I believe that the brain is most fresh in the morning. This is a great time for written work. If you wake up 30 minutes earlier than you typically would, get your morning coffee or tea, sit down and write (preferably with paper and pen and not on a computer) in the language, following grammar exercises, vocabulary training, and free writing prompts in their notebook, then this is a great start to the day.

On weekdays, you can go about your day, come home in the evening, and put on a target language podcast or TV show before you go to sleep. You should try and choose a subject matter that you’re already interested in.

This kind of learning schedule fits in nicely with even a busier work schedule. I can’t stress it enough, though, the most important part it to be consistent and to practice at least a little every single day!

There are other strategies for improving your English skills

You should avoid dubbed TV shows, unless they are cartoons with the dialogue completely replaced. There are benefits to having subtitles, but there are also benefits to leaving them off, so subtitles are optional.

You should make an effort to spend no less than one hour of free time a week speaking with a conversation partner or group. These are easy to find in any major city and the meetups are typically free to attend.

If you have a smartphone, you can try temporarily deleting apps that might distract you and instead you should use language learning apps during break times. Again, many of these are free to use.

You should put audio examples on your device as well. Even better, you might ask your teacher permission to record their lessons and you can listen back in the week between.

There are free websites that can improve your English

Luckily, English has so many free resources that you can use to improve your language skills. For example, you can practise understanding with websites like News in Slow English or improve your reading with Breaking News English.

As for language learning apps, definitely give Duolingo a try and use Memrise for expanding your vocabulary.