You need Us Not an iPhone App to Know #1 Question When Learning to Speak English
In a rush? Jump straight to
This is not a simple question, with a simple answer. All kinds of things will determine. If you’re very young – especially if you’re say, under 8 years old and you come to live in the UK, so that you hear English being spoken all around you all the time, the answer is that you will learn very, very quickly to speak English.
The younger you are, the more ready is your brain, the machinery inside your head, to learn a language. We’re designed, we’re made to learn language while we’re young – obviously because we need to speak our own language. And most of us do that very well. So if you can start young learning your second language, that really counts a lot. Children can start to speak a new language fluently in as little as six months, if they hear it every day! Wouldn’t that be a dream for us adults? But usually it takes us a while longer.
So if you’re living in a country where English is spoken, but it’s your second language, you’ll notice your children learn English much more quickly than you can. They’ll get English at school, their friends will speak English, it will be all around them. So probably English will be their main language. But you probably also want them to speak your first language, the language which you learned as a child. This means you have to speak to them in that language all the time. They may reply in English – but they’ll still be learning your original language and it should stay with them, if they keep hearing it. If someone speaks two languages fluently, in English we call that bilingual. If they speak more than one (foreign!) language, the word for that is multilingual. So being bilingual from the start – that’s a great thing. It makes it much easier to learn a third language and a fourth language and so on. I have bilingual members of my family. My sister moved to France permanently, when my nephew was 10 years old and my niece was 8. This meant that they immediately went to school and had to manage in French. This was difficult at the start, and noticeably more for the 10 year old than the 8 year old at the time, but very quickly they were fluent in both English and French. It took the adults in the family much longer to learn. But since this, there have been other family members born in France – and with each, the mother always speaks English to the child, so that the child learns both languages, right from the start. Children’s brains are all set to learn language, so this is the easiest way to become bilingual.
So what if you’re older? Most of the people who listen to Adept English are certainly more than 10 years old. The estimate is that from knowing no English at all, it takes from 1,500 – 2,000 hours of classroom learning to become fluent! That is a lot of time! It would be very expensive, cost lots of money if you did all of that time in a classroom, on courses that you pay for. And if you were able to go on a course for say 2 hours a week – well that would be at most 100 hours a year. So yes, that would take a long time, wouldn’t it? Maybe 20 years to learn English that way? And some estimates say that for every hour in the classroom, you should spend two hours working on the language outside the classroom, if you want to progress.
So what’s the alternative? Probably you didn’t hear English spoken at home as you were growing up. So I imagine that you probably started to learn English at school or in college, using traditional learning methods. So you started with the verb ‘to be’ and the verb ‘to have’. I am, you are, he is, she is, it is, we are, you are, they are etc. We all learn language this way at the start – you need to have a base. It’s very mechanical. You need to know a certain number of words to be able to start. And as you continue to learn this way in a classroom, you pick up more and more vocabulary, more and more words. You learn to read, you learn to pronounce words. But this isn’t the same thing as being fluent.
And the problem is that some people get stuck at this stage of learning a language – and they can be stuck here for many years. Without the right kind of techniques, it can be difficult to make progress and you find that you can’t understand English outside of the classroom, because people speak too quickly for you to understand. And when you try to speak, the words just don’t come quickly enough because you’re not fluent.
At some point in the process of learning a language, you need to stop translating. Translating means moving from one language to the other and it’s natural at the start of learning a language. An apple every day is good for your health. ‘Mmm…Une pomme, mm…an apple, chaque jour mmm…..every day, est bonne pour la santé ….mmm what’s santé? I’ll have to look that up’. If it sounds like this in your head, you’re translating. And it only works as well as that if the word order is the same and the languages are similar like English and French. At the start you don’t know enough of the new language to be able to think in that language. If you translate in your head, and you carry on doing it, you will never become fluent.
So if you’re stuck at this stage, you need to change the method of learning. Our Seven Rules Course will really be a big help to you right now, if you find you are stuck there, if you recognize this. It gives you techniques for learning in a different way – so that you can start to move forward and make progress again! Save yourself years of trying to learn in the traditional way. Save yourself money too! When I found this method, I thought to myself ‘Ah – this is what I’ve needed to know all along!’ It just felt right. And our course is free – it doesn’t cost anything – so you’d be mad not to sign up!!
Now what if you wanted to become a UK citizen, a UK passport holder? The British government requires that people who want to become UK Citizens, UK passport holders have to have a certain level of skill, a certain level of English language fluency – usually called ESOL, Entry Level 3. ESOL stands for English for Speakers of Other Languages. Now I’ve listened to some samples of the material here, some conversations in English which are at that level 3. And I’m pleased to tell you that if you can understand this podcast, your level of understanding is probably above that level of English language. So if you can understand this, what I’m saying now – your understanding of English is pretty good! Of course, you may listen to this podcast and have to go through it a number of times, and maybe using the transcript, and an online dictionary – but that’s fine too. But what is critical, what is really important at this stage in your learning, you need to keep listening to as much English, regularly, every day, in order to keep working on your understanding.
So you know already that we think that using Adept English – our podcasts and our courses – is a really good way to speed up your learning. But what else makes a difference? What else determines how quickly you can learn English?
Well first of all, it depends how many hours a week you give it – clearly the more time you spend, the quicker you’re going to learn. (Again, listen to Rule 3 of the Seven Rules Course – that really helps you with this one, finding the time…..).
It also depends what language you’re coming from. If you’re learning English and you speak French, German, Italian, Dutch or Swedish, then it’s much, much easier and will take less time, than if your own language is Mandarin Chinese, Urdu, Gujarati, Hindi, Bengali, Korean, Japanese or Turkish – they’re languages where everything is completely different from how it works in English!
If English is only your second language, it’s likely to take longer. You have to start to think about grammar, how language works. And if you haven’t really done this before because the only language that you know is your own language – it takes a little longer. You have to learn to be a language learner – and learn what works for you. But the good news is, once you’ve learned English, your third language is easier. And if English is your third or fourth language – bravo, you’re on your way!
But…one of the biggest factors, the thing which most determines how quickly you learn is how much English you hear! How much English you listen to and how much speaking you do! Those things are what really make the difference. So keep listening – you’re doing absolutely the right thing, you’re heading in absolutely the right direction! If your goal is to be able to have a conversation in English, it makes sense that frequent listening, just as you’re doing now AND active speaking with another person are the activities which will move you towards fluency faster than anything else.
Enough for now, have a lovely day, speak to you again soon. Goodbye.