Learning a language is something that we all do at least once in our lives.

Fortunately, the first time we do it, we don’t need to bother with textbooks and grammar exercises. Instead our brains cleverly do all the work without our ever having to be aware of things like the present continuous and relative clauses. We just put all the pieces together naturally.

The second time round

Especially for those of us for whom childhood is but a distant memory, our brain has lost its incredible capacity to absorb and assimilate the language that we come into contact with quite so effortlessly. Around the time of puberty, our brains change from linguistic sponges to linguistic limestone. Maybe still absorbent, but not in the same way as before. Our ability to learn unconsciously is diminished and language learning can become more of a chore, something that we need to work at.

So that’s what we do

We work. We buy books of grammar exercises, we write lists of vocabulary, we stick post-it notes on objects around the house. We make language mathematics. We make it about rules and structures. We take something vibrantly alive and joyous, the tool we’ve used to build the world around us and we dessicate it. We reduce it to bones and discard the flesh, but who wants bones without flesh?

Studying at an academy is a vital part of the language learning process

It gives you the opportunity to let your newly learnt language find a place where it can test its legs, walk with others and, eventually, learn how to run. If you want to run, you need muscles and to develop muscles, you need exercise. The lack of an ‘s’ there is important. Exercise, not exercises. Gap fills are all well and good, and they can be an important part of reinforcing your in-class learning, but actually using your new language is the best way to get your brain to remember the things that you learn in class. It’s also the best way to make your English more limber.

Learning has become easier these days

Nowadays, using your English while sat in a flat somewhere in Seville, is a thousand times easier than it was just twenty years ago. And that’s all down to the internet. The internet brings the English-speaking world right into your home. It gives you the opportunity to listen, watch and read just about anything you could imagine. Films, newspapers, radio stations, tv shows, podcasts. It’s all there. Just a clic(k) away. So use it. Watch movies, read news reports, listen to podcasts of the latest book reviews or football gossip. Make English more than just something you study, make it a part of your life. It doesn’t have to be a big one, but the more you can actually use a second language and make it an active part of who you are, the stronger it will get.

Students that make the biggest achievements

Ask any second language teacher and they will tell you, that the students who improve the most during a course are the ones who find a way to weave English into their lives, who make it more than just study, but something that they can enjoy as well. If you can find a way to do this, you’ll also be increasing your level of motivation. Things we want to do motivate us more than things we we have to do. So look for the pleasure in the language and you’ll find yourself getting better and better at it.

Students concerns

Often students ask how they can learn things like phrasal verbs and collocations. The answer is simple and the same as above. Read and listen. Learn them the way that we did. By seeing them in the wild. Exposure, exposure, exposure. Language is nothing if you don’t use it. Use it and everything that you learn in class will be reinforced. Things that seemed difficult will slowly start to become natural.

But where can you find these things to read?

To be honest, it’s hard not to find things. If you like cars, then google “car magazines” and away you go. If you like food, do the same, but this time type “food magazines”. You get the idea. To find something to listen to, do the same but substitute “podcasts” for “magazines”. If you want to watch British or American TV, you can try changing the language on your television at home. Or google “Hola Better Internet” for an add-on that allows you to watch online content on things like BBC iPlayer. You can always ask friends if they know other ways to watch series and films online. You could even investigate subscribing to a VPN service.

Still not found what you want?

There’s a whole world of English-language newspapers out there. El Pais and Marca even have their own English-language versions. The BBC, too, has a wealth of news and human interest stories. Follow the Guardian or the Huffington Post on Facebook. Set the language on your Facebook page to English. Set the language on your phone to English. The possibilities really are endless.

If you can’t find things that suit your level, then ask your teacher

Ask Google. There’s something out there for everyone. Maybe just reading this blog post, you’ll have learnt a few new expressions. Or just thought to yourself, “Ah, so that’s a future perfect. I’d use it like that in Spanish as well.” If the only thing you ever read in English is your coursebook, you’re really not doing enough to maximise your learning.

We’re not saying that it’s easy

It can be a struggle to read English that’s written for English speakers and not edited to sit in a course book, but don’t give up. The more you do it, the easier it’ll get. And if you’re thinking to yourself that you don’t have the time, think again. You don’t need to devote hours to English each day. Maybe read an article every two days. Maybe read two a week. Watch one film a week. When you’re waiting for a friend, read the news in English on your phone. That Whatsapp group you’ve set up with your classmates, maybe you could only use English to speak to each other. Every minute that you spend using your English outside the classroom is worth its weight in gold.

Tim Tooher

English Teacher, CLIC IH Sevilla

Duis porttitor nunc et sodales elementum. Phasellus tristique pharetra orci, ac tempus dolor blandit ac. Maecenas mollis consectetur ipsum eget ullamcorper. .

We recomend you to take a look at other contributions from Tim to this blog.