We all lead busy lives. We all have a to-do list longer than there are hours in the day.
So how do we get the “most bang for our buck” when trying to master English communication?
Before we dive into the small, actionable steps we CAN take to transform our English learning, let’s take a quick look at what NOT to do so we can stop wasting our time and energy on the things that don’t get us the results we want.
The 5 worst mistakes you can make in your language learning journey
Okay – there are more than 5 things that can derail your efforts when learning a language. But as the introduction to this article says, we all have busy lives and don’t have time to become educational experts. So, leave that bit to me.
Just focus on these 5 things for now and you will see immediate improvement.
- Thinking you just need conversational classes
I have heard this so many times. And for some people, this is what they need. If you ultimate aim is to have conversations in English, get a conversational partner. But if you need to use English for work, for professional purposes, conversational classes won’t help you.
Sure, they can be fun. It’s nice to make friends, right?
But are you spending time (and money) having a nice chat with someone and then expect to be able to stand up and make a confident and effective presentation at work you are set up for failure. The vocabulary you will need is different. The grammar you will need is different.
- Having no clear and definable goal
Have you ever trained for a sporting event? Maybe you wanted to run a marathon? So how did you do it (or imagine you would do it if, like me, marathons aren’t your thing)?
Did you go swimming? And do yoga? Or long walks in the park?
What about in your language learning journey? When was the last time you had a goal that was measurable and appropriate? Or are you still trying to “become fluent”? What even is that? Who is going to define your English as “fluent”?
- Thinking you can just do it when you have time
Learning a language takes time. And consistency. Doing it when you have a bit of spare time is not going to get you the results you want or need.
It’s a bit like training for a marathon again. Will you do a little when you have a moment? And expect to succeed?
- Trying to learn everything
Learning a language is a huge task, I know. There’s no need to learn all the things you don’t need. At least, not immediately. Do you need to use professional language at work? Focus on that. Do you need to pass the IELTS test? Focus on that. Do you want to improve your English for travel? Focus on that.
Don’t worry about learning all the phrases for finding accommodation in a foreign city if you need to ask your boss for a pay rise or promotion.
- Focussing on grammar and vocabulary alone
Okay. This is a personal favorite of mine. I see this first-hand every day. You know a lot of words. You know so much grammar. But when you speak, people look at you for a second and ask you to repeat yourself. And when you do – you get the “ohhhh” and the smile of recognition.
Now they get it.
So why didn’t they understand the first time? Is it your accent?
Maybe. But probably not. It is more likely to be your rhythm in English. Have you got the intonation (rise/fall of the tone of your voice) correct? Have you stressed the right words in the sentence? Have you connected your words together to give the rhythm of the language?
All of these things add meaning/understanding in English. If you get it wrong, it is hard to understand what you are saying – even if the words and grammar are perfect.
What should you do instead to make the most of your effort in learning English?
- Define a short-term goal
I will learn 50 new vocabulary words in 10 weeks.
- Make that goal relevant to a need you have for the language
What do you need to do with your English?
Communicate at work?
Refine your goal. I want to learn 50 new vocabulary words for use in technical reports in 10 weeks.
Now we have something…
- Commit to doing a regular amount each day
You need to spend a regular amount of time every day to see any real progress.
That time doesn’t have to be long. Do you have 15 minutes somewhere? In the morning, can you wake up 15 minutes earlier? Can you use 15 minutes in your lunch break? Can you listen to a podcast for 15 minutes a day while driving/using public transport to work?
If you need to see results faster, try 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening. A 1-hour session every week as well.
Unless you are consistent in your actions, you will forget and not see the development you need.
Don’t wait until the last minute and expect to cram as we all did at university. It works for passing a test – it doesn’t build overall skills/knowledge in language.
- Include the sound of the language
Listen to native speakers. Start with songs, they have a strong sense of rhythm. Listen to natural conversation – listen for the rhythm. You can watch tv shows/movies, podcasts, and news shows.
And copy it. Repeat and listen for your differences in the rhythm. Record yourself if you need to.
- Have fun
This may be the hardest part of all. And the most important part. Get creative. If you don’t like listening to the news, don’t do it. If you like reading novels, do it.
There are so many options out there. Join a group class that inspires you. You may need to shop around for the right one. But find the learning environment that you enjoy and you will keep going. If it is a chore, you will give up eventually.
Man – this is a lot of information to take in!!!
If all of this sounds too hard, too complicated, then get a coach.
I’ve said it before (and I’ll say it again). A coach is someone who is on your side, who knows what steps to take (and in what order), and will give you the support/push when you need it.
Now a teacher will teach. Give you a lesson, give you some homework, mark you on it and give you feedback.
A coach is different. A coach will guide you along the journey. Explore the culture, explore the use of the language and help you to master the communication aspects (as well as doing the teaching). They are invested in helping you find the joy in it.
So, if you need some support – get a coach. It doesn’t have to be forever.
It shouldn’t be forever.
A coach will get you over the blocks you are having now. Get a coach. It doesn’t have to be me. There are thousands of language teachers/coaches out there. Find the right one for your style.
If you can’t get a coach – get creative and find an option that gives you what you need today. They are out there.