If you boost your attitude towards English learning, it will help you improve the way you think about studying. If you can change the way you think about it, you will be more successful in actually doing it. It’s all about mindset & motivation.
Part 1: Mindset & Motivation
Extract from The Essential Guide to English Fluency
ACCEPT THAT BECOMING FLUENT IN ENGLISH IS A PROCESS AND IT MAY TAKE LONGER THAN YOU EXPECTED
Imagine that there were magic pills you could take to make you speak English fluently! That would be …well, magical. Unfortunately, no one has designed that (yet!).
So for now, one of the key things that you can do is change your mindset and expectations about this process.
Studying grammar rules, going to a class once a week, reading something now and again is NOT enough to improve your fluency.
It’s human nature to always want things to happen at once. Language learning, like many things, needs effort and patience.
Think about it: if you only go to the gym once a week, do you expect to have gorgeous flat abs?
If you practise piano now and again, are you ever going to be a great pianist?
“The first step to improving your fluency is changing the way you think about it – it’s not ever going to be a final destination or an end result. On the contrary, it should be thought of as a journey – and one to be enjoyed!”
MAKE IT MEANINGFUL
Throughout my ‘trying-to-learn-Italian’ journey, I have attempted a few times to go to courses. Some of these have been great and some of them have been disastrous!
One lesson I remember (although I’d like to forget) was about a plane crash in the middle of nowhere and how the passengers survived. It was morose and totally irrelevant to my life. The vocabulary was also so random that it all felt like a big waste of time. There is nothing worse than being forced to study meaningless topics.
Contrarily, after about two years in Italy, I decided to do a professional development course. This course was taught solely in Italian. It was here that I really started learning how to communicate in Italian. The topic was relevant and the focus was not on the language itself, but on USING the language.
Choose topics that are relevant to you and you will progress much faster.
MAKE IT FUN
I have tried (many, many times) to study Italian through grammar books, but after 10 minutes, I always give up. Why? Because it is BORING.
When something doesn’t interest me, I have the attention span of a goldfish and I bet it’s probably the same for you.
Depending on how you look at it, you can have fun doing just about anything!
Similar to point number two, choose topics that you enjoy and you’ll get much more out of the whole experience.
“If you decide to read a book in English, make sure it is a genre you enjoy. If you like game shows, go on Youtube and watch one in English. If you enjoy music, download the lyrics and sing along!”
MAKE ENGLISH A PRIORITY
Do you know how many people say to me, “I really need to improve my English, BUT I don’t have time.”?
This, my friend, is what we call AN EXCUSE.
It’s like me saying, “I want to be thinner” as I stuff my face with a piece of cake (happens – daily.)
The first step to tackling this problem is to decide that English is a priority.
A lot of the time we are pulled in different directions, many of which we may not really be invested in. When there are so many things to do, it can be hard to know which things take precedence over other things.
By making English a priority, we believe it is more important than another thing and it therefore helps us organise our time.
“What may be done at any time will be done at no time.”
Okay, so you’ve decided that English is definitely a priority for you. BUT you really are a busy person. How can you find the time?
The best way to do this is to schedule time. If you go to yoga class, you know exactly what time that class starts and ends, right? When you have a meeting at work, it’s because it has been written into your agenda – it doesn’t just happen when and if you have time.
It’s the same thing here.
Schedule a time with yourself and block it off in your calendar.
Trust yourself too – if you know you absorb the most in the morning, make time then. If you have 20 minutes free at lunch and you know you won’t be disturbed, schedule it then. Make the best choice for yourself and stick to it.
USE YOUR TIME WISELY
Obviously you’d like to speed up your learning and minimise the amount of hours it takes to study and learn English fluently. There’s a huge difference between a productive, focused hour of study and an hour of study where you’re not really sure what you’re doing, or how to do it.
Even worse, maybe you do know what you need to do, but you’re spending half of your study time distracted by your phone or social media.
- Apply yourself – stick to your schedule
- Focus yourself – what are your goals this week?
- Commit your attention to the full amount of time you need to study – turn off your phone!
I hate to break it to you but, if you’re faffing around* and not focused, those hours are not counting towards your fluency!
*UK informal. — phrasal verb with faff: to spend your time doing a lot of things that are not important instead of the thing that you should be doing: I wish you’d stop faffing about and do something useful!
SET REALISTIC GOALS
If your goal is something like: “I want to speak English fluently in 3 months”. Forget it! Mission impossible!
Perhaps: “I want to speak English fluently in a year.” is slightly more realistic, But it is still a mammoth task and it is extremely vague.
Fluency in itself is not a clear goal.
You will be more likely to succeed if you set clear parameters and short–term goals. When something feels more positive and attainable, rather than tedious and overwhelming, it will be easier to do and easier to measure your progress.
When you can see your progress and have a clear path to follow, it’s easier to get excited about achieving the goals you set for yourself.
An example of a realistic goal, would be something like: By the end of this month, I want to be able to have a ten-minute conversation with a native speaker.
Or, I will work on my speaking tasks every day for two weeks.
This is a trick everyone likes: rewarding yourself is always nice and it’s one of the easiest and at the same time most powerful ways to stay motivated!
If you are feeling down about doing something or dread the idea of working on some task, a way to make it easier is to agree on some deliverables which will justify yourself getting rewarded. As soon as you get one of the agreed results, take time to reward yourself in some way.
For some tasks, just taking a break and relaxing for a few minutes will do.
For others, you may want to get a fresh cup of coffee and even treat yourself to a dessert.
For even bigger and more demanding tasks, you may want to reward yourself by doing something even more enjoyable, like going to a cinema or taking a trip to somewhere nice, or even buying yourself something.
Your progress may not seem to others like anything worth celebrating – but take time and do it anyway!
The more you reward yourself for honestly made progress, the more motivated you will feel about reaching new milestones
LAUGH AT YOUR MISTAKES
Keep laughing, stay positive and you will be making progress without even realising it
I once announced to my Italian classmates ‘Ho scoreggiata’ to which they all burst out laughing. You see, I thought I was saying ‘I feel discouraged’, but what I actually said was ‘I farted’.
I was mortified and I wanted to die. But instead, I started laughing too and then we all had a long discussion about funny mistakes we’ve all made speaking a foreign language.
The moral of the story is you learn when you make new mistakes.
Remember that learning English is an ongoing journey, and mistakes are a necessary part of this journey. If you never try to say new things because you get upset when you make mistakes, you are missing a big opportunity to grow.
Of course, it helps to surround yourself with people who will laugh with you, rather than laugh at you when you get it wrong, so look for supportive communities.
BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF
Give yourself all the necessary time to learn new vocabulary or new structures.
Forgive yourself if you forget words, but don’t give up!