Replacing Miracle Methods with Sound Advice for Language Learning

Learners frequently reach out to me through email and public comments to ask for advice on how to learn English. Sometimes they’ve already found an attractive method or strategy, but they want to know whether I believe it will be effective for them. One student recently discovered a particular method that recommended a daily dose of reading. That sounds good, right? The logic was that with enough input, there would be output (production). Well, the problem was that the target number of hours was six. Is that realistic for everyone? No. Even if you count the street signs, billboards, and other written forms of communication a person encounters in an English-speaking country, it would be hard to devote a full six hours in a typical day to reading English.

To be fair, these “miracle” methods (Learn English in 60 days! Lose your accent or your money back.) all have something positive and logical to consider. They promote repetition and consistent practice. They emphasize the learner’s responsibility. However, what few of them seem to address is learner individuality, that is, differences among learners, from their work or school schedules to their learning preferences.

I believe that language studies can be a very individualized experience. I’m not the first to say that what works for one person may not work for another. A reading-based method may lead to great results for one intermediate student, but another student may have different goals and different strengths and, therefore, may benefit more from a conversation-based approach. Similarly, one beginner may fall in love with the idea of using flashcards. Another may prefer a different form of vocabulary study and review.

What advice is suitable for any and all language learners who wish to do some form of independent study to improve their English? Here are some of my suggestions:

  1. Determine your goals and make sure they are realistic and specific.
  2. Determine how much time you have to devote to your language studies.
  3. Find appropriate resources. Ask a teacher for guidance. This may include finding appropriate places for independent study besides one’s home. Alternatives may include a language lab, the local library, a student center, etc.
  4. Develop a routine and/ or form of practice and be faithful to it. Again, ask a teacher for guidance if possible. It’s not enough to find a good textbook or website. You need to know how to use a resource to get the most out of it.
  5. Don’t give up on a routine or form of study too soon. It takes time to see significant improvement. Don’t expect miracles in a matter of hours or even days.
  6. Ideally, your form of study will address reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. Even if you want to concentrate only on one skill, the others should be integrated.

For more specific suggestions, I offer a growing collection of Study Tips. If you have ideas for future Study Tips, I’d love to hear them.


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