Hi, welcome to the Sarah Speaks English blog! This is where I’ll share my thoughts about learning English from my own personal language learning and teaching experience.
I have so many things that I would like to share with you, and it wasn’t easy to know where to begin…
Well, let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start.
Every language has foundations, and these are the five things that I consider to be the foundations of a successful and fulfilling language-learning journey. Read on to find out more!
You have probably realised this by now, but learning a language doesn’t happen overnight. A language is a living thing, not a theory. It’s a lifetime journey rather than something you can learn over a weekend.
If you already follow me, you will know that I play piano and that I often compare learning a language to learning a musical instrument. I know that it’s going to take me years of practice to get where I want to be in my piano playing, and the same applies to speaking and using a language. You will need to be patient.
But here’s the good news: you can start practising now! It doesn’t take long to learn the basics, and these will allow you to travel, to converse with other people, and to unlock a few cultural doors (TV, films, books etc.).
When you learn a language, you have to leave your ego at the door. You WILL make mistakes – making mistakes is essential in the learning process. You need to feel humble enough to use your new language with people who are more advanced than you, and accept that they can help you (even if they’re not teachers).
You may be very successful and accomplished in other areas, including your native language, and it can be hard to start from scratch again. You may feel like a toddler taking his or her first steps. You will fall down. It’s essential to know how to pick yourself up, smile gracefully and keep going.
Yes, making mistakes can be embarrassing. I first came to live and work in France over a decade ago, and I still remember my first and worst language mistakes! I blushed at the time, but now I laugh about them. In most cases, your biggest critic is within you, so be kind to yourself and, once again, be patient!
Do you have a good reason for learning English? Do you need it for your job, or your dream job? Perhaps you’d like to travel, or use it to develop a hobby. Or maybe you want to share it with your kids and give them a valuable skill for navigating the world as they grow up?
There are various doors you will be able to open when you improve your English, and it’s important to keep in mind the objective you are hoping to achieve. This objective will keep you motivated and give direction to your learning.
Let me give you some examples:
- Case study 1: Maxime would like a new job in marketing. He knows that he needs to improve his English to get a B1 exam result to put on his CV. Maxime needs to learn how to write persuasive marketing copy in English, and also prepare for his exam. He could follow his favourite brands on social media and study how they are using English. He can prepare for his exam by taking English lessons and using practice tests online to determine where he needs to improve.
- Case study 2: Flora is a musician, and she wants to perform in different countries with other artists. She needs to learn specific musical terms and basic conversational skills. She could read blog posts written by musicians and participate in conversation groups online or in her local area.
- Case study 3: Philippe would like to go travelling in a few months. He needs to learn how to use practical, everyday English. He could start using an application like Memrise to learn basic phrases, and start doing listening exercises online to train his ear.
- Case study 4: Chloe has two children in primary school. She struggled with English at school, and she wants her children to have a better introduction to English for their studies and their future professional and personal opportunities. She is worried that the English lessons at school aren’t enough, but she doesn’t feel confident enough to use English with her children at home. She could learn a few everyday phrases with the correct pronunciation, and read books in English with her children. She could also sit and watch cartoons in English with her kids!
Do you see how each person has a specific reason to learn English? Keep your goal, and the reward, in sight, and you will find it easier to make time for your practice. What’s more, you will be able to focus your efforts and learn the most useful skills and vocabulary you need to reach your goal.
Is it possible to learn English by yourself?
Yes, and no.
Assuming you have access to the Internet, it is possible to teach yourself English thanks to the wealth of free online resources available today. Apps like Memrise, websites like British Council Learn English, and video-streaming sites like YouTube offer everything you need to improve your English.
But you’ll need to be consistent, organised and diligent. You’ll have to decide which areas to improve without any objective feedback, and rely on yourself for motivation. It’s not easy to do this alone!
Support can come in many forms. You could learn English with a friend or family member, allowing you to practise together and share tips and knowledge. You could take classes with a teacher. You could join a conversation group, either online or in your local area, where this is available. You could join an online learners’ group and find an accountability buddy.
As I mentioned earlier, a language is a living thing and there are a million different ways to use it – each speaker is unique. There is so much you can learn from others, and isn’t learning more fun when we do it together?
Last but not least, you need vocabulary. A few different building blocks make up the English language, and sure, grammar is essential (you’ll never hear me say that it’s not!). But vocabulary is possibly more important. These are the words you are going to use to express yourself in English, and let’s face it, the more words you have, the more accurately you will put your thoughts into words, and the easier you will find it.
I’m sure this last point hasn’t come as a surprise to you; I’d say that approximately 99.9% of the learners I work with express a need for more vocabulary sooner or later.
Everyone can benefit from building vocabulary, including native speakers, believe it or not. When you learn a language, you are looking to develop your communication skills in this language. The more tools you have in your toolbox (= the more words you have in your vocabulary), the more fluent and nuanced your communication will become.
There’s no quick trick or hack I can give you to boost your vocabulary. It’s a numbers game, and humans can only learn so many words in a day, more or less depending on age and learning style.
Here’s my advice: do it gradually. Add a handful of new words to your vocabulary every week. Review your vocabulary often. Most importantly, use it or lose it! (I go into more details in my free guide, which you can download here.)
Oh, and did I say you’ll need to be patient?
Are you ready to start improving your English? Do you have these five things in place? Let me know what you think in the comments!
Who is Sarah?
Hi, thanks for visiting my blog! As you can tell from the name, I speak English, and I’ve been teaching it for over a decade. I grew up in the UK, and I studied languages at university. I moved to France in 2008, and I’ve made all the mistakes a language student could make. I like to share my experiences – the good, the bad, and especially the ugly – with other language learners, and use my broad (but not perfect) knowledge of the English language to help English learners from all over the world level up their communication skills.
P.S. Don’t leave without downloading my free guide, in which I give you my best tips for building your English vocabulary gradually and sustainably. It’s not a race, it’s a marathon, but the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll get to where you want to be!