What makes an effective English learner?
Nobody enjoys working hard for hours and hours and seeing no results.
Even the most motivated and disciplined people start to lose hope after a few weeks of hard work with nothing to show for it.
When January 1st 2017 comes around, I’ll see a lot of Facebook statuses saying “I’m going to lose weight” or “I’m going to master English this year”. Some of them will do it, but most of them won’t.
It’s because when you work hard at something and you don’t see any results, your motivation fades fast. You lose hope. You start to doubt yourself. You might even start to dislike the people who are seeing results.
It’s not a good place to be.
So, if you want to succeed in 2017, you need to know how to study English.
A few years ago, I completed my master’s research in language learning strategies – these are the things you do to learn a language. While I was doing my research, I looked at a lot of research focused on how people learn language, specifically English.
And did you know that there is some research that shows how effective English learners learn English?
One of the articles that I enjoyed was by David Nunan and Lilian Wong. It explored the differences between less effective (low scoring – ‘E/F’ grade) English learners and more effective (high scoring – ‘A’ grade) English learners.
I’m going to show you the differences between these two types of learners, so you’ll know how to become an effective English learner.
As you read through this article, I want you to answer the reflective questions that I’ve included in each section. They will help you to decide if you’re an effective English learner. Write your answers on a piece of paper and share them in the comments section.
Let’s get to it.
The study showed a few big differences between the two types of learners.
The less effective learners, the ones whose English wasn’t great, relied on the teacher. They did things like asked their teacher to show them all their mistakes or explain everything. They also needed to have a textbook.
In other words, they needed something or someone to tell them what to learn. They didn’t have the confidence to make their own decisions, or the patience to find out what they needed on their own.
The more effective learners, the ones whose English was much better, were comfortable to learn English on their own. They did things like:
In other words, they took control of their English. They asked the teacher when they needed help, but they didn’t rely on the teacher.
There are two main differences here:
Who do you think studied more: less effective learners or more effective ones?
CORRECT! The ‘more effective learners’ studied more!
In fact, the difference was actually quite huge.
29% of more effective learners said that they studied English for OVER 10 HOURS a week outside of class. To me, that’s a bit too much. You don’t need to study for that long to get good.
So, if that number scares you a bit… if you’re thinking:
“I need to study for over 10 hours a week to be an effective English learner?! Forget it… I give up now…”, don’t worry.
40% of more effective English learners studied English for 1-5 hours outside of class.
Personally, I think that 1-5 hours is all you need to improve your English each week (if you know what you’re doing).
Any less than that, though, and you’re wasting your time…
…Kind of like the less effective English learners…
…70% of the less effective English learners studied English for LESS than ONE HOUR a week outside of class.
That’s right. They went to class, and then went home and wondered why their English wasn’t improving.
There are two views to think about here:
One – how important they thought English was.
Two – how much they enjoyed studying English.
Let’s start with importance.
BOTH groups of students, the more and the less effective learners, saw the English language as an important part of their lives. They knew that they would use English in their future.
So, what was the difference?
The difference was in how much they enjoyed the language.
27% of the less effective learners disliked learning English. A further 49% had no feelings towards English. This could have been because they focused on textbooks or it could have resulted from an unproductive study cycle. What do you think?
The better English learners enjoyed studying English, though. A huge 78% of them said that they enjoyed learning English ‘a great deal’. Could it be because they made learning more fun or because they learnt more of the English that they wanted to learn? It’s probably a combination of both.
Have you ever been told to just listen to English CDs and you’ll magically be able to speak English?
Or just watch a lot of TV and you’ll be able to speak English?
If you have, you’ve probably tried them and found that they don’t really work.
Listening to English audio and watching English TV shows are good ways to get more English into your life. But you’re not going to turn into a fluent and confident English speaker overnight.
Many of the strategies that the less effective learners used were passive and authority driven. This means that they wanted the English to come to them and they wanted someone to tell them everything.
The more effective learners, on the other hand, were more active. They searched for opportunities to use English. They found their own answers.
So how did you do? Did you answer all the questions?
If you did, I want you to post all of your answers in the comments section of this article BEFORE you read the last section.
So, go and post your comment now.
Done? Cool, let’s continue.
From what you’ve read, you can probably put the pieces of the puzzle together:
The key to being a successful and effective English learner is a good attitude and putting in the work.
Your attitude is how you feel about learning English. If you hate English, you won’t want to study, so you won’t study.
And if you don’t study, you won’t improve. Also, if you think that you can learn English with NO effort, then I have some bad news for you:
If you don’t put in the work, you will forever be disappointed with your English.
Now if you already have a good attitude and you enjoy English, but you’re still not improving, then there is one more thing missing.
Being an effective English learner is good, but you don’t just want to learn English, right?
You want to use it.
Self studying is a skill that you need to master if you dream of becoming confident and successful in English.
I see many students who enjoy English and study a lot…
…But they just don’t improve.
When I look at these students a bit closer, they have a few similarities. Usually they are making the same self study mistakes and they are using the wrong learning strategies.
Here’s a tip: the way you learnt English in school probably isn’t the best way to learn English.
This Thursday, I’m doing a Self Study Training to teach people how to study English on their own.
In the training, you’ll learn about the five big self study mistakes that most students make. These mistakes can completely kill your English improvements if you’re not careful.
I’ll also help you to avoid these mistakes, too.
If you want to join this training, it’s free, but you need to promise me something first.
I only want you to come to this training if you promise to make a change to how you learn English.
If you want to make 2017 the year that your English grows and if you’re ready to make the difference to your English, click here and register for the training.
OR, click the image below
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.