Isn’t the internet awesome?
I remember back when I was a kid and we got our first family computer (in 1995) that came with some free information CDs. I absolutely
loved all of them: Dangerous Creatures, Musical Instruments, Ancient Lands and Encarta 95.
I spent hours and hours just reading and learning from those CDs.
And this was because of two reasons:
And you know what, I realise now how lucky I really was.
I didn’t have to try to find the truth or hunt for answers because these CDs discussed their topics so well.
But in today’s world, our information is so easily accessible that it’s hard to know what to believe and what to ignore.
That’s why, in this article, I’m going to dispel, disprove and denounce 5 of the most common English learning myths that are floating around on the internet. I actually have a growing list (17 right now) of English learning myths that I plan to cover in the future.
If you’ve got any thoughts on these English learning myths, leave them in the comments below.
One common belief is that adults don’t learn as well as kids. People think that kids have this incredible ability to learn languages faster than grown-ups.
Kids (I’m talking about 5-10 years old), have a couple of benefits that adults don’t have:
Learning as a kid looks something like this:
In class they repeat, repeat, repeat. Then they go home and tell their parents what they learned. Then they play all day saying the words they learned, and then they sleep.
It’s completely acceptable for them to do that because they’re kids.
For adults it’s different.
Adults realise that they can’t just walk around talking to themselves all day. They also probably think, “no-one wants to hear about the things I learned today!”
But adults are better than kids in several ways:
While children find it easier to improve their speaking and pronunciation than adults, ultimately adults are better able to become advanced.
And let’s be honest, kids are taught in a completely different way to adults. Kids go to classes where they repeat the same sentences again and again while playing games, but adults are expected to be more creative.
So take advantage of your benefits as an adult – try to notice patterns and be more creative when using English.
If you’ve been learning English for a while, I’m sure you’ve received this advice.
Listen to English audio all day while you do other things and you’ll just magically absorb all of the English and become an advanced speaker.
In fact, if this is how you practice listening, it’s probably why your listening isn’t improving. You might learn a couple of phrases from it. But you won’t become an advanced English learner that way.
When I ask people what they’re frustrated with, one of the most common complaints is listening.
“I can’t understand TV shows.” “I can’t understand people when they speak.” “I can’t understand my lecturer/ examiner/ person on the phone.”
When I ask these people how they practice listening, they say, “I watch TV shows and listen to music”… And that’s it. They don’t do anything else.
Why doesn’t this work?
Because that is not how
you listen in your first language.
In your first language, when you listen to something, you pay attention. When you watch the news, you focus on it and you comment on it. You might turn to your friends or family and say “Can you believe they did?! How stupid!”
Or when you’re listening to music, you might sing along -or- after you’ve watched a TV show you might talk about it with your friends or read online articles about it.
The key here is to interact
with what you are listening to
So, when you’re practicing your listening, be active. Don’t treat listening like a passive skill.
In my article on improving your listening, I talk about this in more detail. There’s a listening toolkit that you can download for free that students find pretty useful.
The third of the English learning myths depends on why you are learning English.
If you want to go on holiday, you’ll probably be fine with a phrase book and a few survival phrases.
But if you actually want to become advanced, succeed at university or use English as a core part of your job, then you need to know a good amount of words.
Not only that, but you also need to know how to use them.
Research has shown that to understand around 80% of spoken everyday English you need to know between 2,000 – 3,000 words/word families. Now, if you want to succeed at university, research dictates that this number jumps to around 2,570.
BUT – numbers are great and all, but we’re learning English, not math.
The actual number of words isn’t totally important. What is important is that:
If you can tick those three requirements, then you’re doing a good job.
If you’re missing something, then you need to check:
Give your learning a boost & check out 14 effective vocabulary learning strategies here.
We’re almost at the end of the English learning myths for this post. This one is important:
Just because someone’s first language
is English, it doesn’t mean
they are a good teacher.
In fact, being a good teacher has nothing to do with first language. I’ve met native English speakers who treated teaching like a joke. They saw it as an easy way to get money.
I’ve worked with non-native teachers who knew more about certain aspects of English than I did. But, I’ve also worked with English teachers who couldn’t speak English… at all. They weren’t bad teachers, but they couldn’t speak English.
There are all different views of what makes a good teacher. I’m sure you have your own opinion. But for me, the core traits of a good English teacher are:
If they fit the above criteria, native or non-native doesn’t really matter.
What do you think?
This is the last of the English learning myths. If you’re a complete beginner, I honestly think the best way to learn is with a teacher who can speak your native language and English. However, as you become more advanced, language classes become less useful.
If you currently take language classes, you might have already noticed that. Most classes focus on one of two things:
General English is usually useful until you hit intermediate. Then your progress slows right down. Exam preparation is useful until you pass your exam, and then you don’t need it.
There is another type of class, though: English for Specific Purposes. These classes cover certain topics like Academic English, Business English, English for Doctors, English for Pilots or English for Football (it’s real, I’ve taught it).
A good language specialist can help you to save a lot of time by showing you the language, the strategies AND the techniques that you need to use.
But you don’t always need a teacher because you can become your own teacher.
Becoming your own teacher is important if you want to become advanced and if you want to learn for a long time.
However, most people think it’s too difficult, too much effort, and that they are not qualified.
If you enjoyed these English learning myths, share them with your friends.
Sam is the founder and creator of English For Study. He's also a lecturer in EAP/Academic English. Apart from making Academic English easy, he likes learning languages, lifting weights and eating good food.