The Three Biggest Mistakes English Learners Make

As we discussed in the introduction, the English language is often taught in strange ways. Using methods that were decided 200 years ago, or even more. In a time when people simply did not understand the science of learning as well as we do today. As a result of these bad ideas, there are lots of mistakes in the way people learn English and other languages too. You may be making one of these three mistakes, which slow English-learners down a great deal.

Mistake One: Learning in a big class of other students

Do not learn English in a class. If you are in one, consider leaving it now. The problem with classes is that you are mixed in with a group of other people, so you are not speaking all the time. It is not a very focused method of learning.
I have seen problems with classes a thousand times. They always slow down to the speed of the slower students. It’s inevitable, impossible to avoid. The teacher is paid to pay attention to all students equally. So they take their time focusing on the slower students and making sure they are happy. The faster students suffer as a result, and learn much more slowly than they should do.
After this book you will become a very fast learner – much too fast for any shared class.
Another reason to leave English classes is that most of them are simply bad quality. Even in so called ‘good’ English schools. Most English teachers do not understand the concepts in this book and use bad teaching materials.
On top of this most English schools want long term students who take years to learn, paying for classes. There is a conflict of interest here. Very few schools want students to be able to speak fluently in a few months and then leave. Because they will lose money and it’s hard work to find new paying students. They have no real motivation at all to keep on improving and improving their teaching techniques.
Another reason to avoid class-based lessons is that education is evolving very quickly. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the teacher-led classroom-based way of learning is obsolete. This system of learning was developed during the industrial revolution in Great Britain, in order to train young people to enter the administrative world of the British Empire.
It is a very left-brained learning system. It’s all about discipline and stopping your mind wandering, and listening to the teacher, and preventing individual creativity and expression, while memorizing huge lists of facts. It’s about training thousands of well-behaved young people who don’t think much for themselves.
Today we know something about learning that they did not know 200 years ago. Well, we know many things. First and foremost, we know that the human mind learns through creative thought, individual expression and freedom to learn in a way that feels best to you. Learning a language is a very rightbrained activity. It requires fun and a high degree of self-direction, driven by the fun you are having. So you are kind of pulled forward by your own passion and curiosity.
Classrooms were designed 200 years ago to kill exactly this process. So why are we still teaching and learning this way today?
One more thing about classrooms (although I could talk about it all day). It’s quite likely that you have bad associations with classrooms in your mind, from your school years. If you’re like myself or most people, you probably don’t think of classrooms as places to have incredible fun and exciting new discoveries. This is one more reason not to step into a classroom every time you are about to begin a process that enjoys freedom, fun and self-expression – learning English quickly.
If you’re concerned that learning English or speaking English privately with people is too expensive, don’t worry. In later chapters you will realize how incredibly cheap it can be to communicate all you like with native speakers. Even cheaper than your English class is probably costing you right now.

Mistake two: Learning grammar first

Children do not learn grammar first. They start learning words to communicate, then short series of words together to communicate more. And it grows from there.
Whenever you learn English from now on, focus on communicating and forming full sentences. As long sentences as possible. Then if you have to, you can quickly learn something about grammar here and there, just so you understand how to make those sentences accurately.
But do not make grammar the main focus of a learning session. Just ask your speaking partner to explain some grammar sometimes, in between making long sentences and talking, talking, talking.
Make communication the focus of your learning. Not the grammar.
Once again, this grammatical focus of most classes comes from the way formal education was developed 200 years ago, when they didn’t understand much about the human mind and how it learns best.
For some reason this is still how students are taught today, hundreds of years later. In classes, lined up in rows, with grammar-based lessons. Lots of repeating and work, work, work. No fun.
Always remember that language-learning is a largely creative art. You live and breathe it. You have to be happy and relaxed and enjoying the process.

Mistake Three: Speaking with non-native speakers

Many students feel like they have to prepare for a long time before they are ready to speak English with native speakers. But the truth is the best way you learn is by speaking with native speakers, even from the very beginning.
If you were learning to play tennis, you wouldn’t spend all your time practicing serving alone, and learning the theory, and stretching and warming up. You would spend a little bit of time doing that, and then most of the time actually playing tennis. Even at the start when you are not great at it, you will still start playing straight away.
And ideally you would start playing tennis with a good tennis player. But your tennis partner would understand that you are a beginner and slow down. They would help you to gradually get better and better.

Of course, learning English is the same.

Don’t waste your time speaking English with non-native speakers. It’s certainly better than speaking with no one, but just be aware that with a non-native speaker you are repeating each other ’s mistakes and may not even be aware of it. Use the advice later in this book to find a native speaker today. But find the right person to help you. You can first find a native-speaker who understands the way that you are learning and who helps you to progress in a very easy, relaxing, fun way. The next chapter will teach you how.