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Dr Elsie Chin

Dr Elsie in Cambridge University UK

Have Some Fun Learning English!

As a teacher by training, a great part of my waking hours is spent seeking out ways, methods and techniques to motivate my students to learn English. Before you read on, let me first qualify that by saying that I have had the privilege to tutor and teach students who excel in the language as well as those whose only opportunity to use English is when they are in my class.

Motivating students already fluent in the language is easy; it’s sustaining the motivation that is tough. As for the less English savvy students, the tough part is always convincing them that they already know more English than they imagine and the sooner they start using the language, the easier it will be for them to master it.

In 1971, John Lennon expressed his vision of hope, peace and a world free of poverty through his powerful song “Imagine”. Decades later, his lyrics continue to influence and inspire me and the way I teach. I have often relied on the ‘imagery’ of my students speaking confidently (and hopefully fluently too) to native speakers just like they do in their first language. I tap on their power of imagination to get them in gear. If you are on the verge of tearing your hair out in getting your students to speak in English, try getting them to imagine other people wanting to speak English as well as they do. Imagine the possibility of talking to people from all over the world in ONE language – English.

Developing Your English

If you feel that your English is weak and you are reading this article for some guidance, you should remember that you are already making headway. The fact that you are reading this article in English right now shows that you already know some English and that’s a huge success! Now it’s time for more successes; it’s to start using powerful methods of effective learning; it’s time to expand your impressive knowledge of English.

To borrow a pearl of wisdom from my fencing coach, “to learn successfully, you must remember that there is still a lot that you don’t know. Your strikes may be cutting and stabbing but your display of swordsmanship isn’t elegant.” I was visibly humbled again by the imagery of elegantly suited knights and musketeers in riposte and my motivation to learn renewed with valour. It certainly beats telling fearless fencers “the formula to good footwork is v t = D, where velocity multiplied by time equals distance.”

So, how does that help in motivating students who are already good in the language? I’d tell them that they are good, but their English probably isn’t perfect. They probably can’t understand classic literary texts in English, the derivative of certain words and collocations, the nuances of the language, talk to native speakers easily or write letters/essays without mistakes, etc.

If you are already proficient in the language and you are reading this, you should never think that your English is perfect. Even if you are the best student in your class, always try to find your weak areas and work on them. When you have learnt to speak English well, your problems will be quite minor, such as punctuation, rarely used grammar structures, uncommon words, understanding “street language”. Right now, your problems are probably more generic, such as mistakes in pronunciation, vocabulary as well as grammar problems with the present perfect tense and conditional structures.

The most effective way to boost your motivation is to use English as often as you can. Using English is fun. It is simply very enjoyable to use your English to read a good book, understand a song, watch an interesting movie, get an answer to a computer problem, exchange emails with a native speaker, etc. The more you use English, the more you will want to use it.

Using English is learning English. When you are reading an interesting article or watching an exciting movie, you are using your English, but you are also learning new words and phrases. When you’re writing a message on an English language discussion forum, you are using your English, but you are also practising your writing.

Using English can also improve your general attitude to English and increase your motivation to study English in other ways. For example, if you see that your knowledge of English pronunciation helps you understand a movie or speak more clearly, you will be motivated to improve your pronunciation even more. Talk to people about English is a very simple but effective method of motivating yourself to learn English.

Here’s How It Works

You usually talk about things which interest you. But the opposite is true, too. If you start talking about a boring subject, you will begin to get interested in it. Imagine you are studying a subject that you hate. You are bored and tired, but you have to pass the test tomorrow. If there are people near you, you have two options: you can tell everybody how much you are suffering or you can tell those people about the things you’ve learned.

If you choose the first option, you will only feel worse. If you choose the second option, and start a conversation on the “boring” subject, you will begin to look at it in a totally different way. Suddenly it will become a subject worth talking about — therefore, an interesting subject. How can you begin such a conversation? Find a friend who is learning English and is on a similar level of skill. You should meet your friend regularly. Ideally, he/she should live near you, or go to the same school or language centre as you.

This also means you should spend some time and money on learning English. If you spend your money on something, you will want to use it. For example, if you buy an expensive badminton racquet, you will probably go out and play badminton as often as you can. This is also true for learning English. If you want to increase your desire to learn English, buy an interesting English language book, or join an English language centre.

But most importantly, whatever the technique or method, you must remember that like fencing or any hobby of yours, practice makes perfect. Learning English requires action. You have probably heard this many times. One small action is more powerful than reading hundreds of articles or volumes of reference books just before an exam. Yes, we know it is very hard to do things routinely, even if they are good for us and that is why not many people speak English well.

Still, we must remember that it is possible to learn English really well if you do the things discussed in this article and just not read about them. You will be successful in life only if you do something about it. Make some minor sacrifices or changes. Break the bad habit of sitting around idling or pecking at the keyboard. Pick up a book and start reading.

Don’t put it off. Begin now!