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Organic English: Happier, Healthier English Learning (A Case Study)

Organic English? Wut?

Think about this? What if there was a way to learn English naturally, like English speaking children do, without all the weird grammatical terms and rules.

The only issue is that, we, as adults, like rules. We like knowing what we can and can’t do. Children on the other hand, don’t really care. They just do whatever they feel like.

Of course as a responsible adult, you can’t just do whatever you like all the time; that would be chaos. But you can do what you like (even things you think you shouldn’t do!) when it comes to learning English.

Now, I’m not going to just lead you in blind here… I’m going to show you what I mean through the deconstruction of one of my students and how I helped him to change his chaotic, adult way of studying English, to a more childlike, relaxed way of studying English…

Call it Organic English if you like.

In this article, I’m going to walk you through how I’ve helped a student of mine cut down his daily English studying time by 4 while becoming a more confident English speaker. It’s a healthier, happier way of studying

Meet James

A few weeks ago, I started working with a new student who we’ll call James. If you’re on my email list, you’ll already know a bit about James, but if you’re not, here’s the low down:

When James first came to me, I asked him to keep a learning journal for a week. After looking at his journal, I found that James used to spend 4-5 hours ‘studying’ English. By that, I mean he was listening to podcasts, reading news articles, studying textbooks and doing a little vocabulary work. He occasionally wrote emails in English for work and spoke to clients in English over the phone. He came to me because he couldn’t see any improvements and was beginning to lose hope in becoming a confident English speaker.

He was starting to feel like giving up on English. Dramatic or not, I was his last hope.

James’ Learning Journal

(The Organic English Essential)

Like I said before, I had James complete a learning journal. I class this as an Organic English essential. It’s something you need to do if you really want to make your learning more effective. There are many reasons why, I class a journal as an organic English essential…

If you don’t care why, skip the next paragraph. If you’re hungry for knowledge (good for you, btw), read on:

When you are more aware of your own learning – like the things you do, what works, what you enjoy, what doesn’t work, and so on – you are much better equipped to make changes to your learning. There is a ton of research done (including my own) into the power of metacognitive strategies (= thinking about your learning) in language learning. And many studies find that the most successful English learners use the most metacognitive strategies… This isn’t just a coincidence (lol)

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=””](NOTE: If you like the sound of using more metacognitive strategies, enjoying learning more and know what works, at the end of this article, I’ve included the Organic English Journal you can download and print out to keep a track of your own learning.) [/thrive_text_block]

Anyway… When I analysed James’ learning journal, I noticed a few things.

First the positive:

  • He didn’t lack motivation.
  • He actively looked for time in his day to study English.
  • He used different materials (audio, articles, emails)
  • He had a strong reason for learning English.
  • He studied every day.
  • He recognised that he needed help.

Now, the negative:

  • His focus was on input more than output. In other words, he consumed English more than he used English.
  • He was trying to increase his time spent studying English, not improve his studying methods.
  • He only used English when he had For example, he wrote in English when he had to send an email to a client and he spoke in English when he had to make a call. All other times, he studied and didn’t use.
  • He read an article or listened to a podcast only once.
  • After he had listened to a podcast or read an article, he moved onto the next one.

Based on this analysis, I made a few changes to James’ English English learning schedule and made it bit more enjoyable. I’ll cover what I changed in the next part.

James’ Study Changes:

The Start of Organic English

Straightaway, I knew that James’ struggle wasn’t time. It was production. When I asked James why he didn’t do more with English, he admitted it was tough and that he didn’t always have the energy to write sentences and practise.

Fair enough. He was right – producing in English (like writing sentences and speaking out loud) takes a lot more brain power than listening or casually reading something.

So, in order to help him to start improving again, I made three changes to his learning schedule.

Change 1: More Creating, Less Time

The first thing I changed was how long he studied. Now, he studied for just one hour. He could do it before or after work in one go OR split it into two 30-minute blocks.

When he studied, however, he needed to do it while sitting at a table or desk. Not on the bus or train or whatever.

He could still listen to podcasts or read while he traveled, but it wasn’t part of his study time.

In the hour that he studies, he does more producing. In other words, he does things like: write sentences using new words or phrases, records himself speaking, does dictations, creates roleplays and so on. He’s creating and using the language – not just absorbing it.


Change 2: Using TV Shows For New Language

Something I’ve been doing a lot with my students for a while now is using TV shows for language.

TV shows, especially sitcoms, are quite good because they contain a lot of conversations with contextual detail.

When you see two characters speaking to each other, you don’t need to be able to understand every word in order to understand the situation or the meaning being what’s happening.

Sitcoms are also good because they often feature common daily situations. A part of James’ daily English study now includes clips from TV shows. One way that he uses clips is to do a type of dictation using the clip. Dictation is a great tool because it teaches you how to notice and understand how English really sounds when it is spoken, and you can experience how sentences are put together and delivered. Some of the TV shows we’ve been using are Friends, Modern Family and Peep Show.

Change 3: More Tracking

The only thing James tracked before was what page he was on in his textbook. Apart from that, he didn’t really keep any sort of learning journal or record of what he was learning.

Now, James tracks a few different parts of his language learning. He has records of what clips he’s used and the language he’s taken from each one. He has records of new vocabulary that he’s learning. He has records of the words or phrases he can’t use automatically or struggles with.

Keeping a record of what you did and how well you did is a useful tool for two main reasons: one, it shows you how much you’ve learnt/improved, and two, it shows you what you still need to work on.

Results Of The Changes:

After Organic English

Since making the changes to his learning (which had been about three weeks at the time of writing) James has noticed that he is writing emails quicker and feeling more confident when speaking to clients over the phone.

But that’s not all.

He’s also enjoying getting more involved with the material he is using. He’s also enjoying having more free time after work to relax. Interestingly, he also said he doesn’t feel guilty about taking a break or relaxing in the evening because he knows he has already done his English study for the day.

Hopefully this article has given you some ideas to improve the way you learn English… And as a result, spend less time becoming more fluent.

If you’re really struggling like James was, I suggest that you download my free ‘ORGANIC STUDY JOURNAL’ by clicking here:


If you spend a week recording all of your learning habits and activities, you’ll have a better idea of what you can improve to learn more in less time – like James.

Download the Study Journal here:

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