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Question of the Month: November 09

burning questionEnglishClub members ask many interesting questions about learning English. Last month we featured our first “burning question” of the month. A burning question is one that you really, really want an answer to. Thank you to all of the learners and teachers who left comments and shared ideas about overcoming nerves when speaking to native speakers.

Question for November: I don’t have much time, but I NEED to learn English. How can I learn English quickly?

Answer: Everyone is in a rush these days. People want to get richer, smarter, and stronger faster than their peers, colleagues, and neighbours. My own mantra in life is the polar opposite: Take Baby Steps.

I recommend taking baby steps to any learner who asks how to learn English quickly. This may seem a strange answer to a question about speed, but perhaps you’ve heard this logic before: Slow and steady wins the race. (Most cultures have a version of “The tortoise and the hare”.) Often times, when you want to get something done quickly, you don’t get it done at all.

Here are some tips for learning English in a “slow and steady” manner:

  1. Make Learning English a Lifelong Goal
    Learning a language is not something you can finish. There is no end result and no final mark. You can only improve and learn to love it more and more throughout your life. If you set a goal to learn “quickly”, you may never learn at all. Even people who are native English speakers continue to learn the language. I learned a new word yesterday.

    Try making a “Learning English for Life” list. Write down (or type out) all of your learning English goals. Break them down into small ones that you can check off often. Add new ones regularly. This list will grow and change throughout your life. Keep in mind, you will not finish this list. There will always be something new to add and learn as your English level changes.

    Example items to put on your list (write out at least 25 to start!):
    1. Master the present perfect tense
    2. Learn 25 irregular verbs
    3. Be able to pronounce r and l properly
    4. Learn common English spelling rules
    5. Talk to a native English speaker on the telephone.

  2. Learn to Focus
    What do you want to learn today, this week, or this month? Ask yourself these questions and then look at your list. Focus on a few items. For example, make November the month to learn the present perfect! Make this week the week to learn the words you always spell wrong. Make today the day you learn prepositions of place. Use a calendar to maintain focus as you work through your list.
  3. Set Deadlines for yourself
    Without deadlines or due dates, assignments would never get done. This is true at work and at school. Self-study takes even more discipline. As you focus, make achievable deadlines or personal due dates and reward yourself for reaching them. Use your “Learning English for Life” list to inspire your deadlines. Email a deadline to yourself every Monday! Keep it small and achievable.

    Example deadlines:
    1. By Friday I will learn 5 new English expressions and write a paragraph using them.
    2. I will sign up for an English newsletter by the end of the day.
    3. I will take one English grammar quiz at the end of each work day this week.
    4. I will do one long dictation every Friday afternoon this month.
    5. I will try this month’s Writing Challenge tomorrow.

    Important: Each time you meet a deadline, check it off your master list. The small accomplishments will keep you on track for life.

  4. Find a Buddy
    Meeting a deadline is always easier when you have the support of a friend. You don’t have to know your friend. With the Internet, your learning partner can be on the other side of the world. Challenge and support each other. Your friend might have a different goal than learning English. Maybe your friend is trying to lose weight. You can still support each other. Check-in once a week with your buddy to monitor your progress. Tell your buddy your goal for the week! If your buddy is learning English, exchange “Learning English for Life” lists and add items that you may be missing.
  5. Immerse Yourself in the Real English World
    Not everyone can afford to go abroad to learn English. You can still find the real world in your own community. Listen to English music (find English radio stations online). Watch English films. Subscribe to English YouTube channels. Chat online in English with other learners and teachers. Choose one hour of your day and step into an English World. Give yourself a day of rest each week.

Wordchecker:
in a rush: in a hurry; wanting to get somewhere quickly
mantra: a phrase you repeat to yourself often
polar opposite: the exact opposite (Ex. North Pole vs. South Pole)
discipline: self-control
master list: the main list
accomplishments: the things you achieve or complete

Calling all English Learners: Let’s build a “Learning English for Life” list together. In the comments add at least one thing you want to learn about English. Then, open a word document on your computer and start your list!

More Learning English Tips

Written by Tara Benwell for EnglishClub | November 2009
Tara Benwell is a Canadian freelance writer and editor who specializes in materials and articles for the ELT industry.

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