I received a question from a new reader this weekend, who found Get Into English through Facebook. The main question is: “How can I get better at learning English?”
Just recently I wrote a bit about how to make progress in English. But I’ll repeat and add a few extra things here.
The reader, Barrak, writes:
“I need to improve my English to write, speak and listening very well. I’ve been trying to improve myself for about 2 years, but unfortunately it doesn’t work.. ive taken six levels in [names one school] in Beirut and one in [another school] in Beirut, but i don’t think I have got benefit too much.. i can’t write or understand well.. i need more..”
Here are a few important points on learning English and making progress:
Time To Double Down
It’s quite likely that the schools did their job. It’s also quite likely that you’re being hard on yourself and that you are making progress! It just might not be as much as you had wanted.
I can’t say what it’s like in Beirut, but to compare, if you attend an English course two times a week in the Czech Republic, pretty much all the schools promise that you will move up one level on the European Framework of Languages. For example, you will move up from Pre-Intermediate to Intermediate during the academic year.
That’s based on about 3 focussed learning hours a week from September to June.
So what to do if you want to make quicker progress? I think you can guess the answer:
- Organise and arrange to have more focussed learning hours
- Have individual lessons or lessons in much smaller groups to maximise the amount of interaction you have in English
The most important thing is to make sure you are interacting actively in English every day.
If you’re worried about how much money you’ll be spending, then perhaps you could create your very own English speaking group through social media? Maybe get 3-4 friends together either with a teacher, a native speaker who’s in town, or in fact anyone who speaks the language well.
Fortunately Barrak works at an institute in Beirut and speaks English with people from the international community, so it’s pretty good that he already has that contact. In fact, if you’re in an international environment, you’re already on your way!
Here’s what I would do:
- Ask around and hire a private teacher in town and/or advertise for an international student at your institute to be your tutor.
A student who speaks very well (say at Proficiency C2 level) can have lively conversation with you and may introduce you to new people in the international community in town.
However, some kind of contact with a professional teacher will help too as trained teachers can give you more precise feedback on your mistakes and in teaching collocations, grammar, phrasal verbs and so on.
The main thing is to make sure you are actively interacting in English every day (it’s so important that I’m saying it twice).
Sure, you could look for another school – but that’s not going to ‘attack’ the same problem. If you have 8-12 people in your class and have lessons twice a week, then you’ll make more or less the same progress as before.
This is why most learners take around 10 years to complete Upper Intermediate B2 level! So your situation is actually quite common.
You just need to do something to break through this.
[Please check out this article for more on this: Why Aren’t I Making Progress]
If you find it hard to find someone in your town, don’t forget that there are thousands of teachers who are online! Italki is one site that has listings of different teachers and because we all live in different countries, their prices are vastly different.
You Never Know Who Can Help If You Don’t Ask
Barrak mentions in his email that he has a lot of contact with people especially from Germany. Is it possible to ask one of them to help you out? You could agree to have ‘official’ conversation sessions or you could ask them to join you for lunch (and maybe you offer to cover their costs).
The other thing – Barrak seems a little embarrassed about his level of English, but don’t forget that they don’t know Arabic. So you’re doing them a big favour! As well, many Germans learn English from an early age at school, and so that’s why they’re quite advanced.
In fact, that’s a conversation topic there. Ask everyone you know how they learnt English – and copy the best advice.
Now it’s your chance to get better. I know some teachers recommend downloading some apps to improve your English or to watch TV shows and films but I say start with organising one hour of active English a day ie speaking with a human being.
So this means finding a teacher or a tutor of some kind and attending ‘English Events’ in town where you can speak and interact.
On top of the above, also check out events on Couchsurfers or in your particular field or specialisation.
Also see if your local gym or dance community has lessons in English – or if they attract people from other countries.
Finally, three more ways to speak English:
- Make your own videos and create your own blog!
- Study up on English collocations and phrases – this site has hundreds of articles!
- Speak with yourself if no one else is about!
What’s the best way to learn English? I’ll be writing more on this topic very soon – I’ve decided to write a book on this! It’ll be based on my 15+ years of teaching English and my 15 years’ experience of learning Spanish, French and Czech. In the meantime please sign up to get the latest tips by email!