I am currently studying English. I always try to learn effectively, probably as much as most people do.
However, there are people who become able to speak well while the others don’t, although they’ve been spending the same amount of time. I wonder what makes that difference. I’m still not sure exactly why but I came to want to verify how my way is, so I sorted out my points in learning English.
Be conscious about the purpose of learning and have it as a good habit. They are often told and important but those words are too abstract so I’d like to go into a bit more of detail.
Response quickly whenever I can
I think that either writing or speaking English is just a some kind of communication tool. Whether or not making yourself understood depends more on how quickly you react instead of using correct grammar or good phrases and expressions. Without instant reactions, people you are talking with may feel some kind of stress and the conversation tends to become unilateral.
Therefore, it is important for the beginners of English learning to master commonly used expressions before studying other expressions. To perfect means to master as well as you can response instantly without thinking anything when you are talked to in English.
When communication response is spontaneous, frequency of communication will become high and also attempts to communicate. Thus the time to spend learning English becomes more concentrated therefore one should learn English in shorter time. Gradually, I would hope, I will be able to express myself deeper and communicate in more refined way.
Regard studying English as a sport
From the point of spontaneousness, I think the basis of learning English is same as learning sports. Studying vocabularies and grammar is more like learning logic and it is not sufficient for practically use of English, such as conversation. Learning sports is similar, learning logic does not make one a good player.
Let me take example of tennis. One can learn for correct form to hit a ball or good footwork but it does not help one to actually hit a ball in tennis court.
In sports, it is necessary to make your body get accustomed usage, and I believe it is a matter of while using your head remembering with your body.
However, you will not become good by continuing to practice without knowing the theories. Also, theories are ambiguous, and after becoming accustomed to incorrect ways of doing things, correcting oneself is difficult. Because of this, I would like to be conscious of the balance between theory and practice.
I think that the Japanese English curriculum is better than nothing, but practical English use is lacking. *1
Preparing your own method
Everyone has a different goal in mind with studying English. The starting point, ending point, deadline, and time available for study are different for each person.
So, preparing a way of studying that suits your own circumstances is best. If it is not a method that suits your circumstances, it cannot be habitualized.
Before I begin to study English, I read many books and take in many points that become reference material. And while studying, I renew the trial and error method. Recently as my learning has taken shape, I’d like to write the detail in another entry in the other day.
Going into an compulsory must-use environment
An extremely efficient method is very direct, but placing oneself in a compulsory environment where one has no choice but to use English.
Humans are by nature idle things, and if they are not driven on they will not become serious. If they do not become serious they will not attempt to use time to study English. In the end it is decided that the effectiveness of study = efficiency x time.
And humans are also ruled by habit. Ways of thinking, patterns of action, everything. The key is fixing bad habits and how to internalize good habits. The study of English is the same. In the beginning it is difficult, but if one continues going about good habits, one can expect to become able to speak.
So it is important to think about good habits themselves and how to devise them. The differences of people’s abilities from birth is so little. If one is not becoming skilled, that is because one’s practices are wrong.
First, while being beaten on, suffering every day, when grappling with the work, if you notice the difficulty, you are learning. Usually, in the learning process there is often a period of distress, even temporarily.
For example, among body builders, there is a word called ‘pain period.’ In the process of training muscles, in order to burden the muscles one must experience pain. In training, it is from the suffering that one has victory or defeat, and to what extent one experiences the pain period separates those who are champions and those who are not. *2
Of course, in the study of English, suffering is not a necessary as a prerequisite as with body building, but those people who give up without experiencing somewhat of a distressing period of time do not break through difficulties in sports, their job, or anything else. So, when choosing a job, if the conditions are the same, it is best to go with one that requests English. If one has the room to go into the field of English language, it is best to live within that field.
Replacing one’s entire world with English
People like me, who started to learn English intensively when they’re close to thirty years old, just can not help but keep thinking in Japanese up until now. Even if you are living in the one of English-speaking countries, you would write and think in Japanese without conscious.
Your mind would repeat it in Japanese when you see the article in Japanese. To get over it, get surrounded by everything English would be effective. I have changed OS, applications on my PC and all the document around me in English. I also try to recognize the name of my daily necessaries in English. You can expand your vocabularies by doing so, and it makes the groundwork for thinking in English as written below.
Think in English as much as possible
I set my priority to this. If you keep trying to think in English, you’re almost like learning English all the time so it’s efficient. However, easier said than done actually.
Especially if you’re beginner, you’re likely to give up easily because without enough vocaburaly you just don’t know where to start. Also it’s very tiring to keep thinking in the language you’re not familiar with. The tip is, to make it up with IT technique. Instead of carrying around big heavy dictionary, nowadays you can install a dictionary application on your smart phone such as iPhone and look up the word anytime, anywhere. Then you can study all the time, “oh that means this….”. By repeating it, you’ll be able to memorize much better.
Though, in my case, it was difficult to do so when I lived in Japan. No matter how hard you try, it would be maximum if you can get about 20% of your working hours with English thinking if you’re using Japanese at your work. I’ve been able to think 70-80% in English since I moved to abroad.
Prepare your own expressions
A method that is difficult but I think will considerably increase efficiency.
Make your own routine conversation work beforehand, memorize it, and prepare it so that you are able to speak it at any time. It is your conversation template, so to speak. It is felt that there is a great gap between the level in which one can do simple communication and the level at which they can speak with thoughtful expressions. Though it’s somewhat vague. If you are in an English-speaking area, just by being there you will become able to use simple communication, but being able to say subtle expressions and clever turns of phrase is something that cannot easily be done just by living there. But if you use this method habitually, that gap is able to be overcome.
To begin with, ordinarily, even if you know a number of expressions that you haven’t spoken before, you cannot remember them on the spot or say them fluently. So however you speak until that point becomes a success or failure dependent on if you have prepared. Also, if you prepare perfectly, you’re acquiring new expression naturally, so gradually you will be able to respond with conversations that you have not prepared.
Generally, there are patterns in conversation. Subjects for when you come to know each other, when introducing your country, while drinking sake, etc. In other words, the topic of conversation. If you remember what you’re talking about with a friend or acquaintance, you naturally understand what would be best to write. It’s also good if you’ve spoken in English and think “Ah, I can also use this subject,” and after you’ve taken note of that, you prepare it. If it doesn’t come to mind, it’s also good to look at a book called “Talking About Yourself in English For One Minute” as a reference.
And when making English sentences, I’m not a native, so I can’t come up with expressions. So I don’t persist in writing them myself, but as much as I can I pluck native expressions from wherever I encounter them. I think there is a free mutual correction service called “lang-8” being used for this. That, or if you enter “Let me know” into Google’s search window using double quotes, there’s a way to confirm if that expression is typical. It’s good to enter from imitation as much as you can in this way. If you’re Japanese, the English dictionary in the ALC website has many examples and is a good reference.
English has many things that must be memorizes one way or another, so I would also like to be conscious of efficiency. The points of human memory mechanism are repetition, association, and emphasis. I think repetition is the most important practice in learning English.
There is the forgetting curve. People forget most of things in short term(a few days), but after that forgetting speed will slow down.
So, use this charactaristic of brain, It’s effective that memorizing many words lightly every day than memorizing few words perfectly. In short, attach greater importance to quality than to quantity.
For example, if you memorize 1000 words in 100 days, don’t try memorize 10 words per day in 100 days. You’d better sloppily memorize 1000 words a day in 100 days.
And after that, association. It is important to put an image to words and expressions as much as you can. This may be using your right brain over your left brain. If it’s a word, use the image of the word itself. If it’s “flower,” relate it to the image of a flower. If it’s a conversation, it’s best to imagine the situation in which it’s used. As words and expressions become more abstract it becomes more difficult, but as a beginner the concrete words are especially important.
Also, it’s good to be conscious of associations between words. For example, when you first memorize “search”, when words like “look for” and “seek” appear, make a connection with them and remember it.
At this time, memorizing simple and often used words and expressions so that they come out on reflex and gradually memorizing difficult and subtle expressions is the secret of success. Remember the differences between meanings with them as well.
Concerning emphasis, there are methods of listening to voices, reading out loud, and increasing concentration. I would like to practice this on a scale that does not decrease the frequency of repetition.
I wrote this up for my own sake, but have points I have not done recently to positively confirm them. From now on I am adjusting with trial and error as the occasion calls for it, and would like to do my best to be able to prove that I improved with these habits and my own methods were efficient.
If it seems like other people can use it, feel free to take some part of it.
I’d like to write for myself about the method of speaking more in detail and also of listening and writing when I have time in the future.
*1 As Japanese have high average level, if Japanese could speak English normally, Japan would be stronger, I think.
*2 Discussion about pain period is here. http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=121374391