How to make quicker progress in learning English..? If you’re studying at an ELICOS school in Australia, this might be helpful for you.
Isabella* was a new student in class, speaking in Spanish to her friend when I walked in.
“I really need to improve, teacher,” she said as she introduced herself to me.
“I want to be advanced so I can do a course in Management in six months’.”
She then spoke a bit more Spanish to her friend..
The question of how to make a lot of progress brings up all kinds of questions. The following ideas come from the perspective of learning English in Australia (I’m based in Melbourne), though you can apply these principles anywhere:
When Is ‘English Time’ For You?
There are basically two extremes in how students approach their time in Australia – which one are you?
First, some students see ‘English time’ as being the moment the teacher starts the lesson. Before that, they’ll speak their own language.
Second, some learners see ‘English time’ as starting from the moment they arrive in Sydney or Melbourne.
This creates two completely different student journeys, and after even a few months you can see how much more progress the second group make!
The learner in the first case still makes progress because they are attending an intensive course of about 4 hours a day.
However, they often do several of the following:
- Speak at home in their native language
- Live with flatmates from the same country
- Limit their chances to speak English by choosing a job connected to their language and culture
- They might not do much homework
- They won’t go out and meet Aussies
Among students who are in the second group, one Japanese girl, Misaki*, is a good example:
Misaki was probably at the lowest level in the class when she started an exam course with me last year. After 3 months, she’d practically over-taken everyone else!
How? For her, ‘English time’ was in class, at school during the breaks, at home, everywhere.
She did two things which I recommend:
- She did all the homework and read books, followed programmes on YouTube, and so on;
- She went to parties and spoke English to everyone, and she met up with friends for a coffee and spoke English there too.
In short, English everywhere!
One party she went to was the regular Language Exchange nights at El Coco. To be honest, not many Aussies go there, but there are students from all over the world. So you’d have Japanese girls talking to guys from Korea or Colombia in English, having fun and making friends too.
After a few months, each learner has spent a completely different amount of time being active in English. For the first main group, they’re still getting about 20 hours a week, but students like Misaki are spending many more hours on improving their English skills. Forty? Fifty?
Peer Pressure To Speak Your Language
Some schools in Australia have a strict ‘English Only’ policy, which means you cannot speak any other language at the school, with few exceptions. You must speak English at the school!
But if you’re at a school where you can speak your own language during the break or around the premises, you’ll most likely do the same.
For example, at one school I know there is an area in the lounge which is now called ‘the Brazilian table.’ During the break, almost all the Brazilians go there and speak Portuguese in the middle of the lounge.
It means they’re excluding everyone else, including the teachers, and the end result is that students are broken up into separate ‘language groups’ instead of coming together to share stories and have fun in the common language, English.
So if you’re in this situation, are you going to join them?
The chances are that if people from your country are speaking your native language at the school, then there’ll be social pressure to fit in and be ‘cool’ like them.
Are you strong or motivated enough to join the other nationalities and speak English?
Is it more important for you to make friends from your own country than it is to improve your English and make friends from the whole world?
On this note, I should add I’ve seen many Brazilians who have been great at speaking only English. It just depends on them and on the learning environment at each institution.
Choose wisely because it’ll have a big effect on your English!
Choose an ‘English Only’ School
Following on from the situation above, choosing an English Only school is the easiest way how you can maximise speaking English during your studies.
Compare two groups. The ‘Brazilian table’ meet each other every day and have fun together. Maybe they even go out to the pub and become friends – but it’s all in Portuguese.
At an English Only school you MUST speak in English the whole time while you’re at school.
As a result, here’s what happens: classmates from Japan, Korea, Chile, Brazil and Spain spend a lot of time together at school speaking English, and so it seems only natural to go out to the pub or the beach and continue the fun in English.
Speaking English becomes a natural part of your time in Australia.
It all seems very logical – the more you speak English, the better you get. But a lot of students don’t see this.
Choosing an English Only school is simply one of the best things you can do while you’re taking an ELICOS course!
Choose A Job Which Involves English
This one’s tough. You need a job to pay the rent, and Australia isn’t cheap. So for many students, the quickest way to find work is to apply at a cafe or restaurant which has cuisine from their country.
For students at lower levels (Beginner, Pre-Intermediate), this can mean working in the kitchen.
For others it might mean being a waiter or waitress.
Quite a few find work cleaning.
I know a few students getting $23 an hour in Melbourne to do the cleaning at various offices. And one student was getting $30!
So the temptation is there. The downside is that quite often the business hires people who speak the same language (eg Koreans at a Korean restaurant), so you end up speaking your language all day.
At least being a waiter gives you some interaction with Australians.
But being a cleaner means you’re singing Dua Lipa songs all morning (or night!) to yourself.
All up – do your best to find a job that enables you to speak English and mix with others.
It’s All About Momentum
So you’ve joined an English Only school. You’re doing the homework, you’re speaking English with your classmates, and now you’ve started going out together.
And you’re in a mixed-nationality apartment and work with Aussies.
Each of these steps helps you build more and more momentum!
The opposite situation – say, speaking Korean at school and then going to your job and speaking your language at work – simply means you won’t get the most out of your stay.
So please take the time to set up an ‘Automatic English’ lifestyle!
Good luck with your choices and enjoy your time here!