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How to Really Learn English: the Truth of Language Learning

Have you ever learned something? I mean anything.

Are you particularly good at anything?

Then I have good news for you! You can learn English.

You see, everyone is good at something. And whatever you’re good at you probably weren’t born doing it.

Something I’ve recently realized is that, for some reason, we think we should learn English differently than everything else we’re good at.

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And, as strange as it may seem, I recognized this the other day when I tried juggling for the first time.

But what does juggling possibly have in common with learning English?

What Juggling Taught Me About Language Learning

Juggling and language learningSome new friends recently invited me to come to a “circus” group and learn how to juggle. I’d never tried juggling before, nor had it ever really appealed to me. But I like to try new things and it was an opportunity to meet people.

The juggling teacher showed me some of the basic moves: starting by throwing one ball and just trying to catch it with the other hand and then increasing to two balls, then finally three.

He told me that the most important thing was to get the hang of [understand/get used to] the correct throwing technique, more than actually catching the ball.

So the best way to do this was to keep trying, no matter how many times the balls fell and I had to pick them up. I just had to keep making mistakes until I got the hang of it.

After trying this for a bit, I realized juggling is exactly like learning a language. In fact, I’m sure you can relate learning practically anything to learning a language.

You start out with baby steps (in juggling, one ball at a time). You make a lot of mistakes, and, little by little, and especially with some help, you are sure to get better.

What this Can Teach You About Learning English

Imagine that you want to learn to juggle. But you’re not even going to think about touching the balls–maybe in 6 months or even in a few years you’ll be ready­–but not yet.

First, you’re going to study all the rules and techniques. You need to understand exactly how juggling works. So you watch videos on juggling, you read about juggling, you learn how to do all sorts of different tricks, but only in theory.

After you’ve learned everything there is to know about juggling, then you’re finally ready to touch a ball. But now think about how your expectations will be.

You’ve been studying for years, you know exactly how the techniques should work and what the tricks should look like, but you’re completely incapable of doing them.

So then you think, “Well I’m just not good at juggling. I don’t have any talent for this. These other people I see doing it have something that I don’t have. I should just quit, because I’ll never be able to do this.”

Do you see what happened? You got so concerned about the theory and having perfect technique that when you actually tried to juggle and didn’t do it well the first time, you thought that there was some problem with you.

However, you can’t expect to be perfect the first time you attempt something. Is that a reason to not keep trying?

Let me give you two more examples that you might relate to better:

  1. You want to learn guitar, but you don’t touch the actual instrument for months. First, you learn all the notes and chords. Theoretically, after all of this studying, you should be able to play “Stairway to Heaven,” but your fingers aren’t used to making the chords and they hurt!
  2. You want to learn to play football, so you start by watching how Messi and Ronaldinho play for months and months. You don’t even think about going out and playing with friends. You’re not ready yet. You need to know all the rules and read everything there is to know about playing football. Do you think you’ll be any good when you finally go out onto the field?

We could probably think of a lot more examples, but the point is that in any of these cases, just studying the rules won’t get you very far. It won’t be enough to get you on Real Madrid or FC Barcelona. Or to make you a master juggler or a rock star.

Learn English like you Learned Anything You’re Good At

Learn English like footballOk, so why the hell do we learn English like this?

We’ve been doing it all wrong.

Most of us study the rules for years, but we can’t speak. A lot of people think that they’re just bad language learners.

But the problem is that when we only study the rules, we focus too much on speaking perfectly, and we fear mistakes. So when we do have the chance to speak, we are scared to open our mouth and embarrassed of making any errors.

Just like you can’t expect to become a master juggler without dropping a few balls (or a lot of balls in most people’s case), you can’t expect to get fluent in English without speaking and making a lot of mistakes.

Some people might learn faster. For example, juggling is hard for me because I have bad hand-eye coordination, but that’s no reason not to try. I promise you that if you keep trying, and always aim to correct your mistakes you will improve.

Remember to Be Consistent

If you really want it, and you do this consistently for long enough (even just a few months), you will be fluent.

The rules are important, but you don’t need to worry about learning them first. They are here to guide your direct experience learning the language, not to replace it. Learn English like you learned football, basketball, guitar, piano, or anything else.

Start speaking from the first day.

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  • Adonis says:

    yep!!! Inspiring article Ethan!
    Tks!

  • Rodrigo says:

    Nice job, Ethan! I guess learning English is quite easier than juggling… hahaha 😀

    • Ethan says:

      I don’t think so. They both require a lot of practice, persistence, and of course, passionate hard work.

  • Mohamed says:

    that’s right.I’m always try to speak as much as I can .No success without mistakes

  • The problem is when you are absolute beginner with a limited vocabulary speaking can be hard, but you don't have to wait to you are advanced to speak. I started communicating in Spanish when I knew a lot less than I did now If you don't feel comfortable speaking at first write and get feedback as long as you are using what you learn.

    • Ethan says:

      Thanks for your comment. I agree, but I think you start with what you know and always aim to learn more!

  • Sei Savitri says:

    most difficult thing in practice what you've explained is ..as non-native i find it hard to make such a conversation flow as usual, you can simply judged as arrogant instead of improving some and is a plea to find conversation partners

  • Niiiiiiiiiice thank's alot ^_^

  • Diego Davi says:

    Everyone should be awere of those things before start learning something!

  • didit says:

    It’s hard when u just think every word what will u speak, but if u speak alone, no one can blame u… It’s all for first step

  • Bala Murugan says:

    Nice post thanks……

  • thanks for the article i find it very interesting and encouraging ."you can't make an Omlette without breaking eggs"….

  • Terryl says:

    By making mistakes you are learning! You are trying! Don’t be shy! … Try! Just do it! 😉

  • […] we noticed in Part I, learning English is very similar to learning anything else like guitar, juggling, basketball, etc. But because we relate it to our first language, which we […]

  • […] So why should we expect it to be any different for speaking English? […]

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