The 4 Stages Of Language Learning
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Hi there I’m Hilary and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English. Let’s do something different today. Let’s talk about the Four Stages in learning a language, the parts of your journey towards learning English. It may be useful to see which of the Four Stages you are at.
So Stage One of learning a language. When you first start to learn a language, it’s quite slow progress. If the alphabet is different to your own language – or if the system for writing is completely different – you’ll spend more time learning to read and write the words first. Then you have to learn all the common words, all the basic vocabulary. Hello, Goodbye, Thankyou, Yes please. Sorry. And then you might learn I am, you are, he is, she is – and I have, you have, they have. Then you might learn some nouns, a man, a woman, a girl, a boy, a dog, a cat. You might move on to learning words for the weather – it’s raining, it’s snowing, it’s hot. And words for your family – my mother, my father, my sister, my brother – or if you’re learning authentic English it might be ‘my mum, my dad’ instead. But in any language, you have to spend time learning ‘the basics’ of the language, the mechanics of how it works. You learn the rules of grammar and useful phrases. So in Stage One you increase your vocabulary – you learn more and more. You perhaps work on words for food, words for in the classroom, words for describing someone’s appearance – she’s got brown hair and blue eyes etc. You might at this stage want to start to communicate in English – so you learn useful phrases ‘Where is this? Please can I have that?’ and you practise speaking, if only to your teacher and to the other students in your class. This stage, Stage One takes quite a time. There are thousands and thousands of pieces of information, about grammar, pronunciation, pieces of vocabulary to learn. And your brain, that machine inside your head, has to store and learn to use all these pieces of information.
So in Stage One you learn about all kinds of different topics. How to ask ‘How are you?’ ‘Where do you come from?’ ‘What do you like to eat?’ And gradually, you build up your vocabulary. You work on your spelling, your pronunciation, your accent. This stage is quite slow, but bit by bit your brain learns by repetition. At this stage in your language learning, you can probably read quite a bit. You can construct sentences – and understand simple phrases. So that’s Stage One. Now let’s jump to…………..
Stage Three of learning a language. This is where you start to speak the language more fluently. You can not only ask for what you want in shops or restaurants, but you’re starting to do social conversation. Social conversation means that you’re talking to someone who speaks the language that you’re learning, just for pleas ure, just for interest, for fun. And you’re really starting to communicate. At Stage Three, your understanding is much, much improved and the work in this stage is in getting your brain to supply the words and phrases quickly enough when you’re speaking, when you’re in conversation. As with every stage of language learning, practising is really important. So that you’re beginning to get to the stage where you don’t have to think about ‘what preposition goes with the verb to listen?’ – you automatically know to say ‘I listened to the news’ not ‘I listened at the news’ or ‘I listened the news’. You don’t have to think about it, the words just start to come automatically out of your mouth. The more you practise, you better you become. So in Stage Three, you already have a lot of knowledge and now you’re practising speaking. There’s a lot of improvement to make – and it can take quite a bit of courage in this stage, but once you start communicating regularly, your brilliant brain will take over and do the work for you, without you realising. And if you’re in Stage Three, it’s really helpful to have a language partner online, somebody that you meet regularly with, just to speak English – and so that they can perhaps practise speaking your language.
And Stage Four is really an extension of Stage Three. In Stage Four, you really are beginning to be fluent. You can listen to the TV or the radio or films and you can understand most of what is going in and you can talk to people! Even at this stage, you’ll be able to understand more than you can say – but your level will just keep on growing. And really there’s no end to Stage Four. We’re all in Stage Four in our own languages. We’re still learning new words. There’s always more to learn – but we’re comfortable. We can speak the language in our sleep. In Stage Four, you’re really starting to speak fluently – and you begin to speak with no effort.
So, I’ve described Stage One – and then I’ve described Stages Three and Four. But whoops – haven’t I missed out a stage? What about Stage Two I hear you say? Well, I’ve missed out Stage Two – and guess what? This is also what many people do when they’re trying to learn a language. They miss out Stage Two. People learning a language try to move straight from Stage One – learning the basics of a language in a classroom to Stage Three – trying to have conversation with speakers of that language. And that’s a big, big problem – people get stuck between Stage One and Stage Three. They never quite make that jump and it feels horrible. People end up saying ‘Oh no, I’m just bad at languages’.
So what is this Stage Two that I’m talking about? How do you magically bridge the gap between Stage One, learning the basics of a language and Stage Three, starting to speak it with growing confidence?
Well, if you’ve listened to our course, The Seven Rules of Adept English, you’ll know already what I’m going to say. What you need at this stage, Stage Two, is to learn through listening. Think about it. We’re so comfortable speaking and understanding our own language because it’s automatic. Our brains automatically know what words to use, without us thinking about it. When we’re talking with our friends or telling them an interesting story, in our own language, are we thinking about the rules of grammar? No, of course not. So how did this happen? How did it become automatic? Well, it happened well before we went to school, well before we read anything or wrote anything down. It happened through hearing and listening when we were babies. When we were babies, we all learnt our own language by hearing the same words, over and over again, every day. We didn’t need to spell or write – we couldn’t even hold a pen! We didn’t know how to use a dictionary and we couldn’t even read! No, babies do it through hearing and listening and that’s how it becomes automatic.
So listening to spoken language. That’s how our brains learned automatically to understand the words first of all. Then later on, that’s also what helps our brains supply the right words when we want to speak. And this is what you’re doing now with your English. Listen, listen, listen – practice and make your understanding of English automatic. If you listen a lot, it means that you stop translating. Translation is the enemy of fluency! Instead you need to listen to English which is easy enough for you to understand. You don’t need the dictionary, you can understand most of the words without looking up. So it means that you stop focusing on learning vocabulary, you stop focusing on learning grammar. When you listen to lots of English speaking, your brain gradually learns to do it automatically, without you noticing.
So where does Adept English fit in these Four Stages of learning to speak English? Well, you probably need to be some way through Stage One – Adept English is not for beginners. You need to have some awareness of grammar and vocabulary already. But partway through Stage One, you could use our course ‘The Most Common 500 Words’. This course takes the most commonly used 500 words in English – and gives you an hour of recordings using ONLY these 500 words! There are even conversations just using these most common 500 words. If you think you’re in Stage One – this is a brilliant way to move yourself forward into Stage Two of learning English.
And if you’re stuck in Stage Two, stuck between Stage One and Three, this means that Adept English podcasts can give you lots of listening practice. And our Course One: Activate your Listening will help you move even further forward. In this course, we give you over 5 hours of listening to English being spoken. The more difficult words are explained to you by speaking in the recording. And we include real English conversations so that your understanding really moves forward.
And if you are in Stage Three and really starting to speak English, our courses and our podcasts will help you keep your English language improving. If you don’t get opportunity to hear or speak English very much, listening to Adept English is a good way of keeping your English language skills alive and polished. And if you’re in Stage Four, and you’re already an English speaker, maybe you just enjoy listening because you think ‘What on earth is Hilary going to come up with next for the podcast this week?’ You’re very welcome whatever stage your English language learning is at. ‘The more, the merrier’ as we say!
Anyway, hopefully that’s helpful. Four Stages of Learning a Language. Enough for now. Have lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.