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A learner or a user?

A while ago, when I was studying the concept of language coaching, I read an interesting book called From English Teacher to Learner Coach. One of the main ideas was to encourage learners to have as much English practice outside (!) the classroom as possible. In this sense, language learning was compared to learning to play a musical instrument, like a violin or a piano.

Future musicians do have several lessons a week with their music teachers, but no one expects to become a professional and successful musician just by going to classes. It’s simply impossible, so one should be ready to spend countless hours practising alone to achieve a certain level of mastery. Is it very different from mastering a language? I don’t think so. The question is this then: are you spending enough time practising/ using English, not learning it?

How is practice different from learning? Well, you practise what you already know to become confident and fluent in it, and you learn something new. In music that will be playing pieces of more or less the same level of difficulty and working on the expressive side. With languages, I think this translates into doing a lot of extensive reading and listening plus having enough real life communication. In other words, we need to shift our focus from the linguistic side (grammar, vocabulary and the like) to the content – read, watch or talk about something because it’s an interesting topic, it resonates with you or it’s part of your life (like when one uses English at work), not because you want to extend your vocabulary or improve your grammar.

The only problem with this approach to practice is that it’s mostly available to higher levels with sufficient passive knowledge (and especially vocabulary). There’s even a belief that “first I need to learn the language, and then I’ll start using it”. Some think that “learning a language” means becoming at least very strong C1 in it. (I believed it myself when I was at university.) But this is so wrong! There are so many ways to use a given language on a daily basis that even a beginner can add some practice to their routine.

I would only suggest starting little by little and increasing it over time. Then it will be easier to make it a habit.

For example, the author of From English Teacher to Learner Coach suggests writing shopping lists (and other types of lists) in English. Actually, it’s incredible how much language you can pick up by reading what’s on the package (just think of all the beauty products, or lists of ingredients, or the description of the product).

As for my languages, this year I’d like to have more of them around so I’ll start by checking the lyrics of the French, Spanish and German songs Yandex Music plays to me. Then I want to get used to listening to the radio in French in the background. And to spend more time speaking to myself or thinking in French (at least once a week, even if for ten minutes). Finally, there are wonderful YT channels Easy French, Easy Spanish and Easy German (and Easy English, of course) with wonderful interviews with people in the street, and I’d like to watch more of them while having breakfast.

Now it’s up to you! What could you do to have more English around you and use it more but in a way that doesn’t require much effort from you? Brainstorm some ideas and share them in the comments if you like. In the next post I’ll share mine 😉

Photo by Stefany Andrade on Unsplash

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