“Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.” – Michael Jordan
Our brains are hardwired to move towards pleasure. We do things that feel good to us. We do them effortlessly and for long periods of time without wanting to stop.
So one important thing when learning English is to make it feel really good very quickly. This is easy to do. It’s all about how you learn and how you recognize the progress you’re making, and then how much you smile and celebrate and help yourself to feel great about it.
If you want to feel a lovely warm burst of success and confidence every time you sit down to learn English, then the number one thing you should do is impress yourself by speaking full English sentences.
Make full sentences from the very beginning when you’re learning English. As you will see in the next chapter, it’s a very big mistake to sit in English classes learning independent lists of words and grammar with other students. Because firstly, it’s incredibly boring, and secondly, at the end of classes like that you have not been speaking real English. So you don’t feel like you’re getting closer to your goal of speaking real English with confidence.
When you focus on English for an hour, learn a few very common words (see the upcoming chapters) then immediately use them in full sentences. When you learn ‘to go’ start saying full sentences with ‘to go’ right away, don’t wait.
‘I want to go to the cinema because I like movies.’
‘When did you go to London?’
‘She goes to work at 9am every morning by bus and she buys coffee on the way.’
These sentences are fine for complete beginners in English. Think about it, they are grammatically very simple, yet they are long and rich with meaning – exactly the type of sentences we native speakers use in everyday English conversation. Of course, at higher levels you can use more complex structures if you like. But always remember that everyday spoken English is in fact quite simple, in terms of the grammar used.
I use present simple and past simple 500 times a day. And I don’t think I’ve made a sentence in ‘future perfect’ since 1999. There is a big myth around language learning – that you have to know the most complex grammar to be n advanced speaker. Actually, you can speak wonderful English with very simple sentence structures. If you don’t believe this is true, just look at the sentences in this book. I am writing almost exactly like I speak. It’s pretty simple language, don’t you think?
Repetition of the basics, with slight variations, is the key to any skill – especially English. Bruce Lee has a great quote about this;
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once. But I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
So from the beginning, make realistic sentences. And practice the simplest structures 10,000 times, like Bruce Lee. At every level of English, make long sentences, because you can. And because that is how we speak naturally. You are instantly using the language – you are speaking English just as you will on the streets of London one day.
Study with someone who understands this, and who is intelligent enough to use these strategies to help you make these full sentences and have little conversations. We’ll talk more about how to find and train such a conversation partner later on.
Every time you sit down to learn English, try to have a little conversation. And repeat and repeat and repeat. Practice the new word inside 5 or 10 or 20 different sentences. You will feel great because you are instantly using it in real spoken English!
Do not feel like you have to practice lots before you begin talking in English. You can begin talking in English NOW. So just begin. Put every new word into 10 or 20 full sentences and see how good it feels.
If you’re alone, speak it out loud anyway. Talk to yourself – it’s a great learning habit. Don’t be shy, no one is going to hear you. And if you’re in a café, you can pretend you’re on the phone or something.
Give yourself early wins and celebrate
This is how you can feel like you are winning from the very first lesson – by speaking full sentences all the time. And just as important is to notice that you are speaking a full English sentence and celebrate. Feel pleasure about it, reward yourself. Pat yourself on the back.
If you are a bit of a perfectionist like me, and you’re always looking for the errors so you can improve, then at first it might be hard to see the successes. But actually, when you are learning English there are so many times when you can celebrate.
Every time you learn a new word and then use it in a good sentence, that’s fantastic! Really, do allow yourself to feel pleasure at this.
You will see, this starts to create real pleasure in your mind relating to English, and you will begin to get addicted to it, like with a fun game where you have many small wins often.
Stop comparing to others
One thing you may have to do is stop comparing your English skills to other people. Comparison robs yourself of joy, and it’s completely unimportant how well other people are doing. Just stay focused on your own adventure with English, notice the little steps forward you are making every day, and celebrate them.
A good way to stop caring about comparison is to think of English in the same way as a game you play, perhaps a board game, like we mentioned in the last chapter. When you sit down to play a game with a friend, you are competitive, but only because it is fun to be competitive. You are still creating a fun moment with a friend. You are working together to have fun. Treat English the same way.
There is an exception to this – if you are a very competitive type of person, and you love to be motivated by competition, in this case, comparing to others might be beneficial for your learning speed. Just make sure it’s only motivating you and driving you forward, and not causing any frustration, or stealing the joy from your learning process.
As you begin moving forward in this way you will begin to really enjoy English and start to progress faster and faster. And whatever you do, stop making the three main mistakes English learners make – explained in the next chapter.