What’s Preventing You from Learning English as a Second Language? – What Not to Do

In an episode of the former I Love Lucy sitcom, Lucy travels to Paris, France, and ends up in a commissariat de police (police station) for apparently paying her dinner bill with counterfeit money.

  • Why doesn’t she just speak French and tell the officer that she didn’t know the money was counterfeit when she apparently exchanged the currency?
  • Why does she need to wait for her Cuban-American husband, Desi?
  • And why are there three bilingual police officers in the opening scene?
  • Who speaks like a native anyway?

Check out this video clip to see the answers to these questions

Perhaps Lucille Ball’s reasons of not speaking French are similar to reasons others have in not attempting to study a second language.If the tables were turned and this situation happened to you in the United States, Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, or in South Africa where English is the country’s first language, would you be able to tell the police officer, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or the South African Police Service just what happened? Or would you wait and hope that a translator of some sort shows up? Or in the case of I Love Lucy, would you hope that eventually several translators were available to help you out?Why is it that learning a second language just does not always happen? Or sometimes, if it happens, it is just not that easy? What might you do that prevents ESL learning and your acquisition of English language skills? Do any of these factors sound familiar?

1.     Do think in your native language

Do you think in your native language, then translate into English, and then retranslate into your native language each time someone speaks in English? No doubt you probably agree with me that this method undoubtedly takes a long time. Have you thought of starting to think like an English speaker? If you do, you just might start sounding like one, as well. And, I bet, in a shorter amount of time.

2.     Do cram English language study every once in awhile without real planning and thought

Do you get a surge of energy now and then to study English? Do you try to learn English without repeated effort and within a short amount of time or at the last minute? The best way to gain language skills is to have repetition over an extended period of time, much like other skills that you have learned. Think about it. What sport or other activity can you do well? How long did this take for you to master the skills? Did you cram everything in once or twice, and within a short amount of time or at the last minute? Look at the recent Olympians, many of them developing their craft every day for decades. That’s a fundamental principle in achieving success. Plan for it. Give it some thought.

3.     Do watch dubbed versions of movies, videos, television shows to avoid English (listening and reading the words) in  your free time

If you take the easy way out and just listen to multi-media entertainment in your own language, you will never learn English fluently. You will miss out on the rich vocabulary and grammar. You won’t be exposed to the English accent, the dialogue, and nuances of the language. How can you expect to learn figures of speech, idioms, jargon, and everyday casual English without actually listening to them and seeing how they are applied?  Instead, you could try watching the movie, video, and television show a few times and pick up more understanding with each viewing. Or you could watch it in English first, and then with subtitles to better understand the English language. Try to concentrate on your viewing and repeat some of the phrase you hear. Then apply them to your everyday casual speech. Build on your English. Capitalize on how you spend your time, even in your free time to learn English.

4.     Do associate only with your native speakers; hang with your same friends who speak your language

If you only associate with other native language speakers, you won’t be forced to apply any extra effort to make yourself understood in English. You won’t benefit from any mistakes that you would make using the English language. You won’t have to listen to anyone explain how to pronounce a certain word or what a specific word means. You’ll never have to question grammar. You’ll never have to worry about embarrassing yourself. Just keep speaking your native language and everything will remain the same. Is that what you want?

5.     Do study English using one method; never change or add different approaches or resources

So you take time to look over an English book every month or so… and that’s it.  Or you prefer to rent out a new movie release in English every Saturday… and that’s it. Maybe you look on an ESL online site every other Sunday afternoon… and that’s it. Or you finally read your first book written in English and it took you exactly 10 months, 2 weeks, and 3 days… and that’s it.If you just study English one way your entire life, will you really make enough progress? Will you sustain interest in studying English? Will you always rely on someone else to get you through (i.e. like Lucy does in the film clip… e.g., her husband bails her out with the help of several translators). Will you ever consider more of a balanced, comprehensive approach to learning English? Take a class online and a class at a local secondary school at the same time. Or read a book and listen to books on tape, watch a video in English and stop the tape to recite various passages to perfect your pronunciation and accent, talk to a native English speaker and present something somewhere in English, write a journal in English, etc. Mix it up to impact your learning and to sustain and increase interest to learn. Take the advantages from each method and resource to maximize your learning.

6.     Do speak as if you’re speaking your native language; do exert little or no effort in modeling English; give up easily

So you are used to certain letter sounds and you want to carry those same sounds over to English, despite the English pronunciation being different from your native language? You don’t bother trying to adjust your accent on certain words so those listening to you can better understand what you have to say? You don’t attempt to use slang or idioms that are popular in English-speaking countries and are used with native English speakers? You don’t take the time to look up a new English word or to ask how to use an English phrase? You leave it go. You apply little or no effort. You essentially give up.

7.     Do put off studying and take the easiest way possible;  cut corners at all times

You don’t prepare in advance. When the opportunity comes, you take an easy way out. If you have an interview using English lined up for several weeks now, you look over a few questions and memorize some answers the night before. If you have a paper due in English, you check out some cliff notes and rewrite the notes in a few minutes. There is no time for brainstorming, no prewriting, no editing, and no rewriting. There is no critiquing from friends or time to allow for anyone’s input.  If you have a business presentation in English, you rely on others in your group to do most of the preparation and the delivery. When there are opportunities in your city like to hear an author who published a book in English or to join a recreational or art group who has native English speakers, you decline to participate. You choose to stay home. You avoid the English language whether that is in writing a daily journal, listening to the news, reading a book, engaging in conversation, and you never listen to English song lyrics. Rather you choose to ignore these opportunities for language growth. You block out anything and anybody associated with the English language and with learning.

8.     Do reply only in your native language, shrug your shoulders, or remain silent when asked a question in English or for your input

You don’t engage in extended conversation. You avoid verbal exchanges. You look down and mumble. You don’t volunteer for new projects at school, at work or in your community that tap into the English language. You don’t open a dictionary or thesaurus. You don’t read. You don’t visit bookstores or libraries. You avoid speaking English at all times.

9.     Do remain in our own country; entertain native speakers and no others

When given an opportunity to study, travel or work abroad, you decline. You don’t pursue anything out of your home country. When a friend or relative asks you to visit or travel with them to an English speaking country, you decline. When a brochure comes to your house to read about a 2 week trip or a study tour, and even an internship to work in an English-speaking country you don’t open the brochure, you don’t find out more about this chance to embrace English. You turn your back on the challenges of being immersed in the English language. You don’t even begin to create an itinerary. When you hear of some English speaking people coming to visit your community or work site, you don’t volunteer to greet them, to host them, to take them out to tour the community or out to dinner. You ignore any type of involvement. There is no interest or curiosity.

10.     Do limited thinking; always believe that you don’t need to learn English and that the language you know is sufficient enough

This is just like when Lucy says, “…why are [others] speaking a foreign language?” even when she is in France. There is an abundance of research that supports the fact that learning a second language has advantages for increasing problem solving and critical thinking, fostering an interest in other cultures, understanding other languages, stimulating brain cells, etc. Learning English gives you insights into literature and science, often written in the universal language of English used internationally. Studying ESL broadens your horizons. Learning another language allows you to meet other people and to do new things. The study of English allows you to expand your life and to expand your world. So it is time to think outside the box. There is value in English language learning. There is power in words.

In Conclusion

The next time Lucy travels to France, I bet that she will probably be a little more careful when exchanging currency. She’ll be more scrutinizing with her money, too, when she has to pay a bill.However, I’m not quite sure that she will attempt to learn a few words in French before she travels to Paris again, or that she will acquire some French while she is on her next trip abroad. Lucy may still think everyone is a “foreigner”, and she may still expect to count on her husband’s language skills to help her out.After all, he seems to have tapped into the value of learning ESL. Here’s hoping you do, too.


What are your thoughts about learning English as a Second Language? I’m curious to know what has helped you the most to gain motivation and to sustain interest. Yes, you may even have shared any number of these stumbling blocks along the way that have prevented you from learning ESL, but what was it that really helped you to learn? Write to me and share some insights. Other readers would love to hear about your success, too. Au Revoir!


Posts you may also like