by Alysia Bartley

Top 10 Reasons Why Your English Isn’t Improving

bored kid looking at camera

Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study. Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life. – Henry Doherty (1870-1939), American oil and utilities magnate, Cities Service Corporation

Reason #1: You don’t study the language.

In the world of the future, the new illiterate will be the person who has not learned how to learn. – Alvin Toffler, US writer, with wife Heidi wrote Future Shock, The Third Wave, Powershift and others

“To get better at your English skills and to become fluent” requires you to spend some time. Can you devote 30 minutes-60 minutes every single day by studying English? This could be time before school or work in the morning, at lunch time, at a break time in the day, or in the evening. You might want to consider writing that block of time on your calendar and sticking to it. Soon this study time will become a habit. To be more productive, you can put some of the study materials/resources needed together in the same spot. A notebook, pen/pencil, dictionary, thesaurus, newspapers, magazines, and books will be a good start.

Reason #2: You don’t apply what you’ve learned to real life situations.

One cannot guess how a word functions. One has to look at its use and learn from that – Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), Austrian engineer and philosopher

During the waking hours, capitalize on every opportunity to use English. Do you listen to English-speaking news or radio? Do you watch American films/videos? Are there lectures and workshops you could attend that are conducted in English? Do you have some English-speaking friends? When you are in situations to listen and speak English, try to actively absorb the language. Listen to what others are saying and internalize the meaning of the words. Can you predict what the rest of their sentence(s) or story will be? If you hear different expressions and new vocabulary, try to learn the meaning. If you feel comfortable asking the people you are with, ask them. Otherwise, write these words down or commit them to memory and work on these “new words” during your daily study sessions. Another suggestion is to talk to yourself in English throughout the day. As you complete your daily routine and other activities, use as much English in your thoughts as possible. You can visualize what people are saying to help you remember the words, too.

Reason #3: You don’t review what you have learned from studying or real life situations to maintain the new language.

We remember what we understand; we understand only what we pay attention to; we pay attention to what we want. – Edward Bolles, American humorist and author

Most people of any age don’t review what they have learned. We don’t take it seriously enough. Remember when you were in high school or college… did you really review every day for your classes, or were you the person who did the work and then crammed right before a big test? There is a lot of research concerning effective learning and memory. We are more apt to learn and remember when:

  • What we study and learn matches and contributes to our educational and career goals
  • We know how we learn best in terms of learning style and preferences
  • We are able to apply appropriate study techniques
  • We fully understand information
  • We use strategies like summarizing, questioning, and visual organizers

There are two ways to move short term memory to long term memory: rote learning and learning through understanding.  Rote learning means repetition like learning the multiplication or division facts. Learning through understanding involves learning and remembering by understanding the relationships and concepts between ideas.  A suggestion would be to repeat or explain what you have learned to yourself or to someone else. And putting things in your own words helps you to focus and remember the information. It helps you to understand it. A famous study on forgetting textbook material compared how much information was remembered after certain periods of time without reviewing the information that was once read. The results of this study reinforce the need for review:

After 1 day                 54% of the information is remembered

After 1 week               35% of the information is remembered

After 2 weeks             21% of the information is remembered

After 3 weeks             18% of the information is remembered

After 2 months           17 % of the information is remembered

Reason #4: You rely on your native language over the use of English.

I hear—I forget, I see—I learn, I do—I understand. – Gennady V. Oster, author

It is important that you use English to gain English skills. You can try to ask for explanations, etc. in English. Again the more you practice, the more you will learn and the faster you will acquire English fluency skills. You can’t expect to learn a second language if you use your native language all of the time, now can you? When the going gets rough, just work through it. Give yourself a pep talk in English. You will be giving speeches in no time!

Reason #5: You’re focused on “mistakes” and would rather avoid a mistake and become discouraged than to try and possibly make mistakes.

You can do one of two things; just shut up, which is something I don’t find easy, or learn an awful lot very fast which is what I tried to do. – Jane Fonda, actress

Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. – Dr. David M. Burns, professor of psychiatry

You don’t need to focus on your mistakes. Learning anything new always involves errors. You should just use the language and try your best. If you are working on a specific skill, you could target that area and try to improve in this one area (For example, using a particular vocabulary word, phrase or idiom; maybe using a particular verb tense). You might ask someone if you used “whatever it is”, correctly but you don’t have to get caught up in making mistakes so much that it makes you nervous or withdrawn that you don’t want to engage in conversation or activity.

Reason #6: You don’t fully grasp how, when, why to use the new language.

Accumulate learning by study; understand what you learn by questioning.Cha’n Master Mingjiao, Zen Master during the Song Dynasty – China

It is common to want to know how what a new word, phrase, part of speech, etc. means when you are learning English. But more important than “what does this mean” is “when and how is it used”. By learning English in context, you are more apt to understand and use what you have learned again, and again and again. And that builds skills and fluency. It helps build self-confidence and increase motivation.

Reason #7: You think you don’t really need to learn English after all.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. –Gandhi, Indian spiritual and political leader

People say one thing but really mean another. They say they want to learn English, but they don’t really take steps to do that. They have all sorts of excuses that they allow to get in the way of their learning. It is much like dieting, exercising or saving money. Many of these goals are quite common. Most people desire them, but don’t take the steps toward actually accomplishing them. When you know you need to speak better, you don’t actually attempt to find ways to do this. You don’t cultivate the English-speaking colleague or neighbor, or you don’t attend that lecture or book discussion group in town. You know what to do, but you just don’t do it. Just remember, people are good at things they need to use. So if you need to use English (i.e. for that class or that job, to read that book or talk to the person at the store, etc.) your English will improve. If you keep telling yourself that you want to learn English, but you block this goal by showing you don’t or can’t really learn it after all, you will not learn.

Reason #8: You sacrifice your goals to learn English and substitute it with something else to divert your attention away from learning. Learning English is not a priority.

What we hope ever to do with ease, we must learn first to do with diligence.-
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), English poet, critic, lexicographer, creator of first English dictionary

You don’t put learning English a priority. If you want to accomplish something, you need to go after it. What are you doing to move in that direction? So far, some of these suggestions in this article might help. You need to put time aside each day. You need to use the English language. You need to review. You need to want this for yourself and take steps towards the goal. Believe me, it will get easier. Take a step towards actively learning from listening

to speaking, reading and writing. Push this goal up on your list of priorities. Then, take action..

Reason #9: You feel that you can’t afford it. It’s is too cost prohibitive. Is the price of learning really worth it?

Never regard study as a duty, but as the enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of beauty in the realm of the spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later work belongs. – Albert Einstein, German-Swiss-American mathematical physicist, famous for his theories of relativity

It might help to look at how much money we are really talking about. Is it a college class or class at a technical school or community center? Is it private tutoring? Is it a series of books and tapes you found on-line or an English book from the book store? Is it an on-line English course? Check into all of the possibilities before determining if it is affordable or not. Learning English just might be more in line with your budget than you imagine. This might also be the time to take a serious look at your own spending habits. Is there an area that you can do without or cut back on? If learning English really is the goal, then you should be able to adjust your financial situation to include that goal. Many people would agree that learning is priceless. You might feel that way, too, once you put more time and effort into studying English, and once you really see the progress that you are making towards English fluency.

Reason #10: You make a typical excuse that you don’t have time to learn the language.

In every case, the remedy is to take action. Get clear about exactly what it is that you need to learn and exactly what you need to do to learn it.- Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), Spanish writer and dramatist, author of Don Quixote

It might help to take an honest assessment of yourself. How do you spend your day? Do you spend too much time in some activity that is preventing you from studying? Do you sleep too much, watch excessive television, spend lots of time on social networks or surfing the Web… can you realistically cut back on any activity so you have the time to study and review? If you haven’t thought of online English study, this might be a great way for you to learn English. You can save time from driving to a class and the learning sessions can be arranged around your schedule. In addition, the classes can be designed to meet your individual needs. The teacher can provide an initial assessment of where your functional language skills are in all areas (listening, speaking, reading and writing). He/she can also help you with your goals of learning English. Do you need to sharpen your English speaking skills for your specific job? Do you need help with crafting a resume or acing that job interview?  Do you need to learn how to write that essay for a particular college class or to deliver that speech/power point for work? Do you want to increase your skill level on the TOEFL or ITELS test? Do you want to have an English-speaking discussion group? These opportunities are available to you when you study English on-line. If you haven’t checked out the many advantages of online English study, maybe it is time that you do.

______________________________________________________________________

I know that learning a second language is work. It is hard work. Acquiring a language to a level of fluency takes the right attitude, determination, diligence, motivation, time, money, and continued effort on the part of the student. But you don’t have to do it alone. I can help you take any of these reasons (or others that you might have) of why your English isn’t improving, and help you improve. That’s reason enough to write to me using the comments section below. Looking forward to hearing from you.

About the author:

Alysia is a co-founder of TalktoCanada. Since founding the online English teaching company in 2006, she has gone on to teach over 10,000 hours of online classes and managed large and small English training projects around the world. During her free time you can find her listening to the latest business book, travelling and going to the gym.

  • Arvind Agrawal

    I agree. Most learners either do not put in sufficient efforts, or are unaware of what English ca do for them. I pose a typically cornering question: forget what English can do for you; tell me what you can do for English?

    • Alysia Bartley

      People tend to underestimate the amount of time it takes to learn a language well. Thanks for the insight, Arvind!