Do you want to know the most overlooked point when it comes to learning English quickly?
Have you ever wondered why children can easily learn two to three languages fluently at the same time growing up?
Have you ever wondered why you learn English very very slowly?
Have you ever REALLY thought about the fastest method to learning English?
So many people ask me what the single best fastest way to learn English is. It is a question I hear over and over again and the point is that there is no straightforward answer but I do have a very simple solution!
What I will say though is that there are many principles that are relevant to learning English that are exactly the same for learning all languages.
So let’s get to it…
It seems that researchers have been studying for the most effective ways, the fastest possible methods and the easiest solutions to learn language and they have been doing this for years and years with some success BUT none have really proved to be the next best thing! Of course we have new technology that has advanced, new telephone apps that can aid us in learning English for example, there are thousands of new English study books being published all the time, but there has not really been a breakthrough that has enabled us to significantly increase the English learning process. However, there are some fundamental aspects that we do need to address which we can very easily apply to speed up the process of learning English…so let’s jump in.
We all know that Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening make up the four core components of English and all languages for that matter. All four are fundamental for different reasons.
For example, writing emails nowadays in English is commonplace for most people as so much of the business world is conducted in English. Reading English books, articles, journals, newspapers etc is without any doubt the fastest way to learn new vocabulary and improve spelling.
And then speaking and listening go together. Most people would agree that speaking is the single most important area to develop confidently and quickly as this is usually the first point of communication for the majority of people when travelling, at work, on the street, on the telephone and in social situations.
So how can we develop this area FAST?
Well, we know that children learn considerably faster compared to the majority of all adults. Additionally, we are well aware that the older we get the more difficult and the slower it is to learn language; so why is it that kids can learn so quickly?
Well, scientists have been telling us that as our brains develop at a young age there is less data in the brain, there is less experience, and there is less information which enables a child to absorb a lot of what it is surrounded by in its environment. Furthermore, there is also significantly less questioning, there is less reasoning, there is less logic, there is less labeling and there are less judgments.
Probably more than anything else, children have a brain that simply just takes in what it receives without any analysis.
So if we look at the above points, the word that keeps repeating is less less less. So what does this mean?
Well, I say to my students that there are two schools of thought on this topic.
- There are those that think that learning language as an adult in the traditional way of using text books, going to English classes, doing English exercises, and studying English grammar is the superior method.
- There are others (including myself) who believe that having a child-like mind is the best way to go. This means that if we as adults try to learn English in the same way that all children learn their mother tongue (by first listening to the language we want to reproduce) we can do so just as easily and often more effectively and quickly as method 1.
Which approach is better then?
Well in my opinion, if you are learning English as an adult in a non-native English speaking country, the best way to learn English is by having a child-like mind approach and think & ask as little as possible and simply just use the language as much as you can. As adults we often question ‘why’ and want to know and learn very specific rules associated with English grammar and all the exceptions associated with grammatical tenses.
And many people think that this questioning and this way of learning English really slows down the English learning process. And I agree. You see, a child never asks about the correct way of speaking when he is learning his own mother tongue and it does not matter whether it is German, French, Russian, English, Serbian or tongues in Africa, all children simply hear the language that they will eventually speak and then just repeat it as their ability to do so develops. So for example, a newborn in South America hears Spanish or Portuguese or variations of both depending on exactly where they live and then over time because of constant repetition and exposure every child then has the ability to reproduce that language with all its idiosyncrasies and nuances very very easily.
Therefore, why don’t we do the same as children? It is an extremely effective method, right? Well, the difference is that we are adults and this method of learning took place when we were young, long ago.
So it actually brings me to the most important point that I always tell people when they ask with desperation in their eyes: what really is the fastest way to learn English?
And my answer is always the same and will continue to be until the next breakthrough exists…and that is that THE fastest way to learn English or any language anywhere in the world is by listening first. Children just go on listening and listening, in fact hearing the language that they are eventually going to produce not only from their parents but from friends, on the television, out in the public, on the radio, at school, in fact everywhere. And this is actually the most overlooked point when it comes to speed and language learning.
I always tell students that the more one can listen passively and actively to English, the faster the language learning process will be; and this proves to be correct time and time again.
It is no secret that if you have Student A and Student B, and Student A learns English by listening to podcasts, by going to native English speaking countries, by watching movies in English, by listening to the radio everyday more than Student B, then Student A will develop and learn much faster than Student B even if they spend the same amount of time studying.
And the reason for this is simple: the human brain has a very large capacity for hearing and absorbing information especially when it comes to language.
It seems that the mind human mind really has a super capacity to absorb, remember and retain and then have the ability to recall information and be able to speak the language that that person is learning a lot faster if it constantly & consistently listens to that language more than any other method. And this is not rocket science, this basic principle has been around for years and years. So we know learning language in this way is far superior than any other theoretical method.
So why doesn’t everybody simply just listen to tons and tons of English to make the process so much faster?
Well, this is where so many other factors come into play, which makes things rather complex. Everyone simply learns differently. Some people love learning and have excellent results by listening to English, whereas others are bookworms and love reading and doing grammar exercises or they might even be people that love watching movies in English with subtitles.
You see, when we watch a film the human brain uses a big muscle completely devoted to visual memory and the listening process becomes secondary. So I would say in a hypothetical situation that a blind person watching television would learn to reproduce English a lot faster compared to somebody sitting next to them reading subtitles. And the reason is simply because listening has far greater power than visual learning when it comes to language.
- Have you ever thought about why we do not learn to read first?
- Have you ever thought about why we always involve music and song when we were young and learning English?
- Have you ever wondered why we always try to make things fun with children when learning a language?
So the reality is that human beings have very large brains with very large capacities to learn, absorb and acquire very large amounts of information. There are only about three-five thousand English words that we actually need to know to get by and communicate in most situations. So there it is!
We know that we actually don’t need to know that many words to be able to sound like a native English speaker and become fluent in a very short amount time. However, adults often spend hours, days, months, course after course studying English in the traditional way of using textbooks, doing online courses, yet still with a very limited ability to speak in English, very little ability to express themselves in English, and very little confidence to be able to reproduce English in any situation.
So do you avoid doing an equal amount of listening in English?
Children are completely different on the other hand; they don’t think, they don’t care, and when it comes to confidence it’s just something that they don’t have a shortage of – if they have something to say they just say it! They are expressive, they don’t ask why like us adults do.
So the main differences between children and adults are that children learn faster than adults, children have more confidence and adults have less confidence, children learn through listening whereas adults learn through books, and children’s minds have no boundaries and adult’s minds put up many barriers.
As a result and after covering a lot of information would it not be safe to say that learning any language, especially English, can be done in an extremely fast way by learning through listening and immersing yourself in an English speaking environment?
And the answer is YES!
So, I also say to my students that the fastest way would be to go and actually live in the UK or any other English speaking country. But in the real world that is not always possible for many reasons such as time, work constraints, finances etc. A short holiday to one of these places usually has a significant impact.
From my own personal experience, I know that when I travel to the north of Holland and spend a weekend with my Dutch speaking parents-in-law who actually speak English very very well, because I’m in their environment we speak Dutch 90% of the time and English 10% of the time. Whereas, when they come over to my place it’s usually the complete opposite. And this is normal. But, the most AMAZING thing happens to me after three or four days with them…
Which is: simply by hearing them interacting in their own mother tongue without me participating and engaging in conversation (because I don’t have that much confidence yet) I come back to The Hague (without even knowing it) with so much more ability to speak in simple easy phrases in Dutch in most situations. All from just listening to the language for three or four days. Now this is actually remarkable because it’s such a passive way of learning that you don’t even really need or require any effort. The only thing that does become noticeable is that being in an environment in a language that is not yours can become quite exhausting to listen to. So sometimes at the end of the day of listening to Dutch nonstop I wish I could just speak English, listen to English because it’s familiar and my brain doesn’t need to organize and decipher completely new information.
Now can you imagine if you were surrounded by this 24/7 365 days a year? This seems to be actually the fastest cheapest most effective solution to learning any language.
The problem is that’s not possible in everybody’s situation, but it’s worth thinking about and trying to apply and immerse yourself in similar situations in the future if you are wanting to improve your English really fast.
Just one last example. My mother is not a native English speaker. She arrived in Australia when she was 17 years old and she is 68 years old now. She never had any formal English training. She never studied English at school and she basically had to learn English from scratch. Many years later, she now reads books in English, she can now speak fluently in English and even though it’s not her mother tongue, English is now the primary language in which he thinks eats and sleeps. She still makes tons of mistakes related to grammar, however she can communicate with ease to everyone, she can make jokes in English and she knows many expressions in English that only a native English speaker would know. Had she received formal English training though, those mistakes would probably not exist in her spoken English now. The point is that she’s fluent and can articulate exactly whatever she wants to say or whatever she’s feeling at any point in time in English without having had any formal training. And the only way she learned was by listening and using the language as she learned it.
So most of you reading this do already have some knowledge of English. Whereas in the 1960s, when she arrived to Australia she only knew the word hello.
So if she could do it with far less than we have today, anyone can do it, YOU CAN DO IT!
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