A Popular Topic for BritIt Readers – HELP!
What habits should English language learners adopt to help them meet their goals? Martin Sketchley, latest winner of the British Council’s Teaching English blog award, gives us his top five.
Learning English, or any language, can be a challenging but rewarding experience. To make progress, you need to put in a lot of dedication and effort, but you also need to develop the right habits. Here are five habits that have helped my students achieve their aims.
- Plan your learning and set realistic goals
The decision to study English, or return to the English language classroom after a long break, can be quite overwhelming. Try to plan your studies with a weekly timetable and dedicate one day for self-study, including time to review your lessons. Planning your learning day by day or week by week can be rewarding, and will make it easier to measure your progress. This is especially true if you set realistic goals. For example, you might aim to learn five new linking expressions next week (realistic) rather than master academic writing (extremely unrealistic).
Tip: A wonderful app that I have used for studying is My Study Life. It helps with organising your routine for study; you can even use it to plan other things in your day.
- Record new vocabulary in a way that’s easy to review
When studying a language, it’s essential to keep vocabulary notes from lessons. As language lessons are often based on a particular theme (e.g., shopping, music, family), it’s a good idea to organise vocabulary by topic. Experiment with different ways of recording vocabulary, including word cards, mind maps, and tables, and see what works best for you. You should also make a note of the different forms, uses and pronunciation of particular words (make sure you have a good learner’s dictionary).
Tip: Try using your mobile phone to record vocabulary from your lessons. Or why not create an online poster using Glogster to upload new language, videos or images from the class (such as the teacher’s whiteboard notes). Try it out.
- Review your lessons and self-study notes regularly
To successfully learn new vocabulary and grammar, you need to review your lesson or self-study notes regularly. Go through the notes you took in a particular lesson and try memorising some or all of the important language or grammar points (remember, set yourself realistic goals). Then, writing on a blank piece of paper, see how much you can recall. Repeat the process until you’ve memorised all the things you set yourself at the beginning of the task.
Tip: Some learners benefit from creating flashcards that you can store on a smart phone. Quizlet is one such app. There is also GoConqr, which can help you bring all your lessons together in one place. You can even create vocabulary mind maps from your lessons! With so many tools to help you online, find out which ones work for you.
- Be active and take control of your own learning
When in class, try to participate as much as possible. Be determined to use the language and grammar your teacher has presented. Making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process, so don’t let that stop you.
Be active rather than passive: find out from your teacher what your strengths and weaknesses are; ask your classmates what they think of your pronunciation; set up an English-speaking club with other students, so you can practise speaking after class. By being active and taking control of your own learning, you will soon start to see results.
Tip: There are many language apps available to help you connect with speakers of English, but the best one by far, in my opinion, is HelloTalk. This app will help you use your language skills outside the classroom.
- Find interesting things in English to watch, read and listen to
To succeed in your English learning, you need to read and listen to as much English language as possible. However, it’s crucial to make sure the topics are ones that interest you. Get into the habit of watching TV shows or movies, listening to songs and radio shows, and reading books and magazines in English. The English language is truly global and the opportunities to read or listen to it are endless.
Tip: YouTube is a free and seemingly infinite resource of English language videos. A good place to start is with the British Council’s YouTube channel (remember, you can listen with the captions turned on). Personally, I love to watch Jamie Oliver’s YouTube channel, as it inspires me to try out some new recipes!
What habits help you learn English effectively? Share your ideas in the comments below.
Read Martin’s winning blog post: 10 websites for English language students
A version of this article by Martin Sketchley was published on the British Council’s Voices Magazine blog in June 2016.