When you’ve been studying a language for a while, sooner or later almost everyone comes to a point when you’ll ask yourself whether there has been any improvement at all. You’re frustrated, because you’d like to master the language you’re learning much better than you think you already do. You’re language skills are improving, though. Even if you’re not able to notice your progress yourself, I’m sure your family, friends or colleagues did. Noticing improvement of skills in other people is much easier than noticing them in ourselves. Outsiders are not in the middle of it, so they’re able to be way more objective than you could ever be.
When we read stories, we can often relate best to characters, who are in similar situations as we are. And I think it’s the same when it comes to becoming aware of your actual progress in learning a foreign language. For one or another it might be helpful to read about other people’s experiences. So today I want to share mine.
So why don’t you grab a cuppa, get comfortable and read on?
When I was a child (approximately eight years old), my parents gave me a lovely learning book for children. I just loved it. I always had a great time sitting in my room for hours and hours, listening to the tracks on the CD while I was reading the text aloud from the book. My favourite chapter, by the way, was the one about Stonehenge. I was quite impressed by it and I decided that one day I’ll visit it. (That will hopefully finally happen in Feburary 2018 – Yay! 😀 ) And I think that was the moment when I felt in love with Great Britain and the English language.
I started learning English at school in 3rd grade. It was a lot of fun, but I was quite shy and I tried to avoid speaking in class. (Reconsidered not the cleverest decision, though.)
Getting Slightly Frustrated
My enthusiasm became a bit less intense, when I changed to secondary school. I still liked English classes, but I started to get more and more confused by grammar rules. Still, I was too shy to actually speak English. My grades weren’t bad, but I noticed that I needed to put much more time and effort in improving my language skills.
Getting Even More Frustrated
After secondary school I went to Berlin and I began a dual apprenticeship. At vocational school I had English classes as well. Yay, it was totally fun… Certainly, I didn’t consider my English to be perfect. But based on my experiences at my former school, where I was at least average, I neither considered it being that awful. I always loved participating in English classes, even if I was struggling here and there, but that feeling changed quite fast into complete frustration and confusion.
I still remember the first task in my new course. We had to write down personal statements about ourselves. Some of them should be true, some of them wrong. We had to read them aloud, so the class can have a guess, whether it has been a wrong or a correct statement. It should has been a funny and relaxed way to get to know each other better.
But the language levels within the class varied as widely as the age span. With 17 years I was one of the youngest pupils in class. If I remember it correctly, the oldest one was already 25 years old. 28 people, quite different in age and educational background (some had a degree similar to a high school degree, others did their A-Levels and some even dropped out of collage). So there were people who already spoke English quite well, fluently and without big grammatical mistakes. And there were people like me, who didn’t understand half of the vocabulary our classmates and the teacher were using and who weren’t able to follow an English film, even if there were subtitles.
As it was my turn to read one of my sentences, I said: “I cook very good.” instead of “I cook very well.” (Have a guess: True or lie? 😉 ) I’m quite sure that this mistake made people roll their eyes and sigh because of annoyance. Experiences like this took a lot of my self-esteem and I didn’t want to speak in front of the class anymore. So I only did when I was forced by my teacher. Well, I doubt that it’s necessary to mention that my grades were as bad as they haven’ been all time before.
Though it wasn’t my most successful time in my learning career, there was also something positive about it. It reminded me about how much I always liked learning a language, and English in particular. Realising this helped me to get motivated to improve it on my own.
And when I’ll be finished?
After completing my apprenticeship in 2013, I was glad to finally have way more time to focus on my resolution. And yes, you’re right: That was four years ago. (Really?! Wow… Such a long time!) And still I’m sitting here and tell you about my wish to improve my English myself. But it’s true. Learning a language can be a long-lasting project.
When I was in school, I always thought: “Alright. I’m learning English. And when I’ll be finished?!” That shall demonstrate that I thought there’s a point when you finally master a language. But there actually isn’t. I know, I’m a master in demotivation, am I? 😉
The point is: There’s always room for improvement. Just think about foreign words in your native language. Do you know every foreign word what exists? You just can’t. There are too many. Even if they’re obviously part of the language, there’s no need to know every single word. The fact, that you don’t use them doesn’t mean that you can’t speak your native language, does it? According to this, even native speaker master their first language not to complete perfection.
Based on this guess, I think it’s quite subjectively when you “finished learning”. When you only want to learn some sentences to survive during the holidays in a country where people don’t speak your native language, you might feel “finish” after being able to book a lovely hotel room or to oder a delicious meal in a restaurant in English. Speaking for myself, I set a highly ambitious goal: I want to unterstand, write and speak English as well as a native speaker. So for sure it will take me much more time to improve my learning skills. (Yes, I definitely have got some perfectionism issues 😀 ) Though, in both cases someone speaks English. And that’s it, isn’t it? It’s all about your own expectations. (Okay, I admit: Might be a bit different if you need to learn English for professional reasons. Then they’re probably your boss’ expectations….)
Take Your Time!
How fast you’re going to achieve your goal depends on a variety of factors. Which language level do you have so far? How much time are you able to spend learning? How old are you? …? …? …? …?
The key to success is mainly about practicing on a regular basis. We just can’t save a lot of information all at once. Our brain simply doesn’t work that way. It’s going to delete information which aren’t recalled regularly. So it’s definitely more effective to learn every day for ten minutes than to learn once a week for three hours. Just choose a method that fit’s best with your schedule. But please, don’t pressure yourself! I did. It’s definitely no fun! And you’re even way less motivated and productive.
Make a Choice
There are so many different ways to improve your English. You could join a conversation class, participate in a course at an adult education collage, learn with books, register for a online course or meet with a tandem partner.
What ever you choose, don’t be afraid to change the way to learn if the current method stops working for you. It’s quite important actually to learn in a way that suits you best, because you’ll be more successful and in consequences more motivated as well.
My own current strategy is to speak English as often as I’ve got the opportunity to. I also watch TV series and films only in English. For improving my writing skills I started blogging. (And it was a great idea. It’s so much fun! :D) But I’ve got to start learning ten minutes a day again. I was a bit lazy lately. (Yes, I admit!) I’ll let you know how it’s going 🙂
Coming back to the perfectionism issue, a great docent once told me during a training: Perfectionism is the enemy of communication. And it was kinda mind-blowing as I realised: He’s perfectly right.
As I said before: I’m definitely a perfectionist. And I’ve still got that “I-don’t-want-to-speak-to-people” issue. Well, maybe the wrong word choice. I want to speak to people in English, but I feel highly insecure and pressured when I do. Still I think he’s right. Even if it’s way outside my comfort zone, how could I improve my speaking skills if I don’t actually talk to people?!
So even if it’s really hard for me, I try to face my social anxiety and to force me to speak. For example: Sometimes I just record an audio message in WhatsApp for a friend of mine, who doesn’t speak German. Or if I feel confident enough I visit an English cafe and even try to order in English.
And every time I do it, I’m so proud of myself. Yay, I’ve survived! It really motivates me. And I know: It’s really worth doing it!
What do you think?
I’d love to hear about your opinion and your own experiences! Uh, and what’s your guess: Do you think I cook very well or not? 😉 Please tell me in the comments below. Looking forward to read from you.