You have been learning English for some time and certain questions pop into your mind from time to time. Some of you share these questions with me and I have written a short guide to answer some of them. I tried to keep the answers short and to the point to provide a short practical guide.
1- What is the most important thing in learning a language?
Practice! There are of course many other important elements i.e. motivation, consistency, building vocabulary, which will contribute to your success, but the essence of language learning is practice. Some of us associate ‘practice’ with ‘speaking’ only, but practice refers to all 4 skills. You must read, write, speak and listen to English. Writing and reading seem to be such underrated skills, but they can be incredibly useful and take your English to the next level. The more you practice the easier it becomes. Speaking practice is of course very important too. If you talk about your favourite holiday destination 50 times with 50 different people, you will become a master at speaking about that topic. Each practice will teach you something new and help you notice the gaps in your grammar and vocabulary. Practice is not only specific to learning languages, but it is the key to mastering any skill in life.
2- Is there a way to make my learning more effective?
There are many ways to make your learning more effective, but it all boils down to one thing and that is your decision about what kind of learning journey you are going to have. Learning a new language is a journey and you need to decide whether it is going to be a fun and exciting journey, or whether it is going to be a difficult and boring one. Your decision will determine your whole experience with English. If you decide to make it an exciting journey, learning will take place quickly and the outcome will be rewarding. If you think it is going to be difficult, then don’t be surprised if you keep noticing how difficult everything seems. I know that most of us are not aware that we make such a decision, but it is there whether you notice it or not. Furthermore, I can see the impact of this decision in every learner that I come in contact with. I usually ask if they like learning English and whether they find it difficult or easy, their answers tell me everything.
3- Is there an ideal age to learn a language? Am I too old to learn English?
There is no such thing as being ‘too old’ for learning languages. In fact, age is completely irrelevant to language mastery. Of course starting early is an advantage, but it is not because young people learn better, but because starting early means you will have more time to acquire the language. Being child-like and playful of course make language acquisition easier, but these are qualities that adults can easily employ.
There is one potential issue that you may experience as an adult though. Many adult learners underestimate how well they can learn English and they condition their mind in such a negative way that their self-beliefs limit how well they can learn. They make half-hearted attempts to learn the language which is the very reason why such adults don’t speak good English. In other words, if you learn English with the right kind of mindset, you can learn as well as anyone.
4- How long does it take to learn a language?
This really depends on how much time and effort you put in improving your English and also the level you want to reach. If all you want is to be able to engage in basic communication in English, you could reach the necessary level for this in a year or even in a matter of months. However, if you want to be a really good speaker of English, to be understood and to understand more or less everything, then it is really a lifetime journey and you really need to make English a part of your life. I am not suggesting that you will be studying English every day, but you should have regular exposure to the language and practice it continuously.
5- What is the best way to learn a language?
There is no such thing as ‘the best way’ to learn a language. Everybody learns differently and we all have different tendencies as to what we like and how we learn best. Therefore different techniques and approaches will work for different people. I always encourage students to become as independent as they can and not to depend on one teacher, material or system. This is partly because there may always be more efficient options available to you, but also for the fact that variety makes learning more interesting, diverse and rich.
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