I had a client a while ago who always liked to come to class 15 to 30 minutes late. He was not very interested in studying, but he was very interested in improving his English. One day in class, he was struggling with a word in English. I asked him if he could try and explain the word. Tip: If you don’t know a word, don’t stop speaking and try to think of the word. Try explaining it to the listener because the listener might be able to help you with the word you’re missing, or you might actually remember it after explaining it for a bit. No one is going to judge you.
This guy, however, didn’t want to do that. And he told me that I “wouldn’t know the Korean word anyway”. Well, I asked him what the word was in Korean, and he said “Dalgi,” which means strawberry. So I told him the translation and he was surprised.
“How do you know that word?” he asked.
“Well, when I go to the grocery store and I want to buy strawberries, I need to know that word,” I replied, trying to hint that I had to study to memorize that word.
“You’re very lucky. If I lived in the US, my English would be a lot better,” he said, not noticing the furrowing of my eyebrows.
I’m writing about this little anecdote because it’s very common for people to assume that if you go to another country, you will automatically learn the language. Not so fast. If it was that easy, you probably would not be reading this blog. As an adult ESL learner and speaker, that won’t happen. Even if you are abroad, you will still need to learn how to practice your language with other people. Learning a language is tough, and there’s no way you can really do it without putting in some amount of practice time.
Kids can speak another language so easily! Why is it difficult for me?
There’s a common perception that kids are really good at learning another language quickly and that somehow adults aren’t able to. Well, that’s a lie. In fact, if you give the same opportunities that kids have to learn a language (a structured curriculum, trained and experienced teachers, and a wide access to education materials) to adults, they are able to succeed just as well as kids.
One big advantage that kids have that we adults don’t have? There is a lot less they ned to think about. Think about it; they don’t have to worry about taxes or bills or their job or anything else. They just have to worry about when their favorite show is on, or when they can go and play with their friends. Not too difficult right?
Don’t believe me? How about this?
One of my favorite channels on youtube is LangFocus, which is a great resource for studying and improving language learning. The guy who runs the channel – Paul – is someone who loves languages and loves learning them. He is a pretty inspiring dude. And so he gave himself a challenge: try to learn Tagalog in a week. You might be reading this and thinking “whaaaat? How can he do that?” Well, let’s try to break down his methods and see how they can help you:
- Shadowing – This is a great way to practice pronunciation. Listen to a recording of a native speaker, and try to repeat what they say and how they say it. I would recommend doing short little chunks at a time. First start with a sound, then a word, then a short sentence.
- Practice with a native speaker or teacher – Always important. Language is about communication, and you will need someone who can help you communicate better in English.
- Take notes – I find it so many people come to class and expect to learn everything without writing things down. I promise you that you won’t be able to remember everything from class unless you write it down.
- Use Flash cards (like Anki or Quizlet) – There lots of apps and websites that are available for practicing your English vocabulary. Anki is a popular app that can be downloaded, and I have used quizlet quite a bit in my own classroom and studying as well.
- Practice, practice, practice – Sorry. You just have to do it.
- Find the fun parts of the language – Paul talks about how he enjoys reading books. Many people love watching movies or tv shows from English speaking countries. Practice can sometimes involve things you enjoy doing; it will help motivate you to keep studying even when you are stuck on something very difficult.
I don’t think you will want to spend a week mastering English in your very own English boot camp. That being said, all of these tips can help you strengthen your English and not spend lots of money on an English education abroad.
to furrow one’s brow – (v.) to make a wrinkle in your forehead and eyebrow, showing annoyance (see the picture below)
anecdote – (n.) a short personal account of an event or incident
automatically – (adv.) to do without free will or to do because of habit
perception – (n.) an understanding or recognition of an idea.
boot camp – (n.) a military training camp, often used to describe a very intense training period.