Lesson 2
Speeding up the learning process

Why is the learning curve so steep when you try to learn to speak English?

There are, at least, three main reasons:

1. You are using the wrong method

Most students  who have learned English only with grammar books cannot speak English. 

Has that been your case? 

Think about it. 

Perhaps you know everything about the Present tense and but you don't know how to use it in real life.


2. There is a lot to learn

I always remember a student I had many years ago in a big multinational company. 

One day I was talking about the vocabulary you have to learn in English and I showed him an English dictionary. 

He took look at it and he decided to stop taking classes. 

Why? He was overwhelmed by the idea of learning so many words.

There is, indeed, a lot to learn but we'll see how to do it in the following lessons.


3. After learning for some time you lose motivation

If you're learning with the wrong method and you have a lot to learn, it's only natural that you lose motivation.

As a result the learning curve becomes steeper and steeper for you.

How you can speed up the learning curve

Imagine the English language is a huge cake you've got to eat.

What would you do?

Would you eat it all at once or would you eat it very slowly?

Think about it. 

If you eat it all at once you will get an indigestion.

If you eat it too slowly the cake will eventually spoil.

But if you make a plan on how to eat it probably you'll be able eat all of it and enjoy it.

Suppose your plan is: I will eat a normal piece of cake every day and I will freeze the rest. In this way I won't hurt my stomach and the cake won't get  spoiled.

Let's take this idea to the process of learning English    

"I will learn something every day, I will just "freeze" the rest and if I keep doing it, one day after another, eventually one day I will have "eaten" most of the English language."

That's exactly what you have to do to speed up the process of learning English: 

"set yourself realistic and doable goals "

I'll give you some examples of what  realistic goals are if you want to become an advanced student:

  • Learn 2 or 3 new structures every day. That's about 60 to 90 new structures a month.
  • Listen to English at least 30 minutes every day.
  • Repeat words and sentences aloud 20 to 100 times every time you're trying to learn a dificult word o expression.
  • Try to speak English with a native or a teacher at least once a week.

What is not realistic is to say:

  • To try to be fluent in 3 months.
  • To learn 100 words or structures per day. You might, but the next day you'll probably  forget most them and you'll be so tired you won't want to continue learning.
  • To learn only by reading without listening or speaking
  • To learn English not speaking with anyone
  • To continue doing the same with your English even though you know it has never worked. For example, trying to learn the irregular verbs for 25 years and never fully mastering them.

Once you have set realistic and doable goals for yourself, you have to work on your attitude. 

Remember the attitude of the champion we talked about in the previous lesson?

Well, champions know how to speed up the learning curve because they are curious and they find and tests ways to enhance the learning process.

The productivity expert, Ryan Clements gives us 5 tips to speed up the learning process  which we can easily apply to learning English.

  1. Focus on the repetition not on the amount of time you practice.

If you are going to learn new words and structures, repeat them until you know them, no matter how long it takes.

  1. Break everything down into small chunks.

This is similar to the idea of having short and doable goals.

For example, If you have to learn the irregular verbs, you break them down into groups of five. Then you work with them until you know them.

  1. Perfect each chunk and then create a "chunk chain"

Once you have learned the first five verbs very well, you continue with the next five verbs, then you have a chain of ten verbs. 

Remember, before you go into studying a new chunk be sure that you know the previous one very well, otherwise it  won't work.

  1. Turn the learning process into a game with rules and rewards

Let's continue with the example of the irregular verbs.

My rule is going to be: I must learn 5 irregular verbs very well every week. Very well means knowing their meaning, sound, and how to use it.

For example: The verb feel : sentir

-Feel (fil), felt (felt), felt (felt). Do NOT confuse it with "fall".

  • I feel good every day.
  • You didn't feel good yesterday.
  • How do you feel?
  • I felt bad.
  • She has felt bad.
  • I haven't felt bad.

If at the end of the week you have managed to learn the 5 irregular verbs,  your reward can be anything like eating out with your friends, or having a beer, or read something that you really like, or watch your favourite series.

  1. After learning hard, take frequent and refreshing breaks

Your brain can not hold information if you don't rest. So it's very important that after studying hard, suppose for an hour, you take a break. This is similar to what top athletes do; they train in smaller high intensity chunks.

Putting it into practice

Let's start right away.

Let's learn the following sentences taken from the bilingual audiobook Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Dubbuk.

Please, listen to the sentences and repeat them aloud. Try to focus on the pronunciation. You should know all of them by tomorrow. If you achieve your goal, think of your reward. 

Remember, focus on the repetitions, not on the time you spend learning.  Turn the learning process into a game, create rules and rewards.

  1. Utterson era abogado y nunca sonreía. Utterson was a lawyer and never smiled.
  2. Él era introvertido, poco hablador y frío. He was introverted, not very talktive and cold.
  3. Alto, delgado, serio pero sin ser desagradable.Tall, thin, serious but not unpleasant
  4. ¿Ves a esa puerta? Do you see that door?
  5. El abogado asintió con la cabeza. The lawyer nodded.
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