Learning in English

     Learning another language is a daunting process that can't be accomplished in a matter of weeks or even months.  Sure, you can learn some basics in that amount of time but it takes years to become fluent in a second language. 

     Why?  Think about how children learn their first language.  How long does it take a child to master his or her native tongue?  The answer is years and it takes most people far longer to learn a second language than it does the first. 

     Another why?  When we set out to learn a second language our first language can get in our way.  The degree to which this happens is largely age-dependent. 

     The older we get the more difficult acquiring a second language becomes.  Not only do our brains slow down with age but our first language is deeply embedded in our memory.  This puts our brains into translation mode every time we hear a new word.  It takes a lot longer for the brain to be shifting between languages via translating than it does for it to focus on one at a time.

     Children, on the other hand, especially very young children, don't really make a distinction between two languages, when they are learning them at the same time.  

Acquiring two languages for a two-year-old is more like learning a lot of synonyms than learning two separate languages.  For example, children will hold up an apple and ask, "What is this?"  A bilingual parent will say, "Apple or manzana."  The child views the words as two different ways to say the same thing.  They are not even aware that one word is in English and the other word is in Spanish.

     Whether you are a teacher, a student, young, or old there are many good reasons for you to study English.  In this article, we will discuss why you should learn English, how you should learn English, what you should learn in English, and what method options you have to learn English.

Why Learn English?

There are many reasons to learn English but the top three reasons people want to learn English are to be able to become part of a global community different from their own, to travel, or to conduct business.  Let's take a look at each one individually.

     The first reason for learning English is probably the most common one.  People love to travel.  English is the native mother tongue in about fifty countries in the world and is the official language in many others like India and Singapore.  This means that approximately 840 million people speak English which includes 335 native speakers and a whopping 550 people that speak English as a second language.  This is why English is called the international language.  A big portion of the world is waiting to get to know you, so why not get started by learning a common language?

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Travel Tic-Tac-Toe or Bingo Card Game

     This means that there are tons of famous travel destination spots where a person can get along if they speak English.

     Take the London Eye for example.  It is one of the largest observation wheels in the world at 135 meters high.  It is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in England, and for that matter, in the world.  The Eye boasts over 3.5 million visitors every year.

     Try visiting New York city in the United States.  Times Square in NYC is one of the most popular commercial intersections in the world!  More than a third of a million people pass through iconic Times Square NYC every day!  The Statue of Liberty is another world-famous tourist attraction.  It is a universal symbol of freedom and democracy.      While you’re in the United States why not pop over to the west coast for a visit.  California has some of the most famous places in the world.  You can go and see everything from how movies are made in Hollywood to the trees in the Redwood Forest.

     Now let’s travel south and visit the Sydney Opera House in Australia.  It is not only a famous landmark but one of the most recognizable building structures in the world.  It not only hosts opera events but has ballet, classical and contemporary music concerts, and exhibitions.

     There are so many other amazing places in English speaking countries Sweden, Germany, and the Philippines that they are too numerous to list here.  The point is, learning English can help you relax while you travel to these exotic places and more!

     The final reason to learn English to be discussed in this article is to enable you to do business with almost a one and a half a billion people that would be cut off from you otherwise.  North America, Asia, and Europe are markets full of opportunities for business.

   Learning English can help you accelerate your career by giving you a leg up against your competition.  It is an important ability to add to your skillset that proves your willingness to be open-minded and to learn new things.  Practically speaking, employers will know that they can rely on you to do everything from introducing yourself in English to hammering out contract details.

     As today's world is more interconnected than ever going global is almost a must to survive in its competitive market.  By learning English, you can show that your company is not only an international firm but that it is inclusive and multicultural as well.  It's a fantastic way to connect with colleagues from other countries, gain new customers or clients, and to build stronger relationships with investors and partners.

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What to Learn in English

     Yes, yuck!  Let's start with grammar.*  Although, as I mentioned above, I don't think that students should begin their language journey by learning grammar, I still do believe it has its place. 

     In the beginning, it is better for students to focus on figuring out patterns, expressions, and collocations naturally through listening and speaking.  After having achieved a basic understanding of the language it is quite beneficial to learn some grammar structures and rules.  

     Learning English in a more academic way will help you achieve higher levels of communication.  The process is much like a child learning the basics before studying grammar in English class.  After learning the necessary grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules, students can go on to write at a more advanced level.  This is a must for students that plan on attending higher learning institutions such as universities.

 *(read our article "Grammar in English" for more details)

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The Beach Board Game

     Learning vocabulary* is another important piece in the English language puzzle.  It is the basic building block for communicating information and describing things.  How could you possibly communicate anything without knowing some vocabulary?

    The good news is, you only need to know about one to three thousand words in order to carry on an everyday conversation in English.  This means that all you need to do is learn them and you will understand the majority of what's being said to you in the language.  

     It may sound like a tall order to learn a couple of thousand new English words but if you are a Native Spanish speaker your job won't be as difficult as you might think.  As Spanish is derived from a dialect of spoken Latin and over sixty percent of regular English words and ninety percent of technology or science words have Latin roots the two languages have thousands of cognates.  Cognates are words that sound the same and mean the same thing.  This means that if you are a native Spanish speaker and you want to learn English, you already know more English vocabulary than a five-year-old in the United States!

 *(read our article "Vocabulary in English" for more details)

     Pronunciation is the final frontier for communicating the language effectively.  You can learn all of the grammar and vocabulary in the world but if you can't pronounce the words correctly how in the world will anybody understand you?

     And please, don't try to read words and teach your self-pronunciation.  You can run into some real problems doing this.  Not only will you have problems communicating but the incorrect pronunciation mistakes you learn on your own can takes years to correct with the help of a tutor.

     There is, of course, no substitute for learning pronunciation from a native speaker.  But here again, be careful.  You need to decide what country you are likely to deal with most often and find a native speaker in that country.  Accents and dialects are as prevalent in U.S. as they are in the Latin America.  At the very least, choose a tutor to practice with that has a widely accepted mainstream accent that most countries will understand easily.

 *(read our article "Speaking in English" for more details)

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     Although many teachers would say, that there are so many things to learn in English that they are difficult to count, I would disagree.  I believe that all there is to learn can be boiled down into three main areas, grammar, so you know what the structure of the language is, vocabulary, so you know how to talk about people, places, and things, and pronunciation, so people can understand you when you do speak about them.

Computer Technology Conversation Worksheet

Methods to Learn English

     There are traditional methods and not so traditional methods of learning English.  This article will touch on both.  We will discuss traditional methods such as reading and writing in English and nontraditional methods like listening to music, podcasts, and television programs.

     Let's begin with the traditional methods and start by taking a look at learning to read in English.  

     Reading* is a great way to expose yourself to new grammar and learn new vocabulary.  As you are reading try to recognize the patterns and conventions of the language.  The goal should be to learn English in a more natural way as compared to reading a textbook.  So, pick something to read that you are interested in and start out with something simple like a children's story.

     If you come across a word you don't know while you are reading, take the time to look it up.  This will help you to learn actively, thereby causing the information you are absorbing to stick in your memory longer.

     You don't have to stick to reading simple children's books.  The internet has an endless supply of daily news articles, special interest websites, and informational blogs in English that you can access free of charge.  Try making flashcards out of words you don't know in order to drill yourself later.  This practice can go a long way in helping you to remember new vocabulary.

 *(read our article "Reading in English" for more details)

Friendship Activites Reading Booklet CP.

Friendship Activities Reading Booklet

English Writing Safari Postcard Adventur

Writing Safari

*(coming soon)

     The next method of learning English is also a traditional one, writing*.  

The task of learning to write in English can be overwhelming when you look at all the spelling rules and punctuation marks.  Luckily, if you are a native Spanish speaker there are many more similarities than there are differences and some things are even easier to write in English than they are in Spanish.  

     Let's begin with spelling Spanish.  Spelling is one of the most difficult things in English because of the many nuances of the phonetics of the language whereas Spanish is much more straight forward.  The vowels are pronounced the same no matter where they are in a word or what they are paired with.  Combinations of consonants are also pronounced the same in Spanish.  This makes spelling words much easier in Spanish than in English.  In other words, words in Spanish are actually spelled how they sound because there are far fewer different spellings for the same sound, double letters, and silent letters.

     Next, take a look at the differences in capitalizing words between English and Spanish.  This is a complicated task in English because we have to constantly decide if a noun is a proper or common noun.  Spanish is so much easier.  Most things such as days, months, nationalities, languages, and religions don't get capitalized.  There are a couple of cases where Spanish does use the capitalization of nouns.  When we write out the title of a book or movie, for example, only the first word is capitalized.  Also, proper nouns such as Mount Rushmore only receive capitalization of the actual name, ie, montaña Rushmore.

     Now, let's get to the funny little marks called accents.  There are not used in English at all so writing in English will seem less complicated to native Spanish speakers in this regard.  Accents are important in Spanish because they cannot only change the pronunciation but can change the meaning itself.  Look at the word "papa" which means potato in English.  When you add an accent to it as in "papá" it means father.  The words are pronounced differently so they are hard to confuse in spoken Spanish, but when it comes to writing, the accent mark is imperative.  This is not the case in English.  Potato doesn’t change its meaning with a little mark over a letter.  Whew!

     The accent mark is the most common symbol that is needed in written Spanish but there are a couple of others.  The "tilde" or squiggly mark, is placed over the letter "n" like "ñ" to change the letter from"n" to "nyay" and the dieresis, which is two dots placed over the letter "u" like "ü".  When you see the dots it just means that the letter must be pronounced.  Second language English students don’t have to be concerned about these either.  Another Whew!

     Finally, Spanish uses a question mark or exclamation point before and after sentences.  English is simpler in this respect too as it only requires these marks at the end of sentences.  The apostrophe is probably the most difficult English punctuation mark for native Spanish speakers to get used to as it is not used in Spanish to show possession or form contractions. 

 *(read our article "Writing in English" for more details)

     We'll end this section by going over some nontraditional ways for learning English like listening* to music, television programs, movies, and podcasts.

     Listening to music is a fun, relaxing, and interesting way to learn a new language.  Now that free lyrics are readily available on the internet, learning the words to a song is a cinch.  Simply google the song's name with the words "free lyrics" at the end and you are literally ready to rock and roll!

     Another great way to study English is to watch videos.  Although kicking back and watching a comedy or telenovela is entertaining, I'm talking about using a study method to learn the language through videos.

First, if you must, watch the video with the subtitles in your native language.  Do this to try and gain more understanding of what is going on.  Second, watch the video with English subtitles and take notes about words you don't know.  Look up the words at the end of the video.  Third, watch the video with no subtitles.  Pause the video where you didn't know a word and read your notes.  Last, you can not only practice listening but you can get some speaking practice in as well.  Watch the video for the last time with the English subtitles back on and pretend you are an actor rehearsing a new script.  Read the subtitles out loud, for one or all parts, as you move through the video.

     Last, try out a free podcast on something you find interesting.  There are many different types of podcast such as interviews, discussions, and narrative storytelling.  No matter what type of podcast you listen to it can not only be a great learning experience but it can provide a great escape from sitting and reading a book or watching a video.

 *(read our article "Listening in English" for more details)

Health and Personal Hygiene Video Worksh

Health and Personal Hygiene Video and Worksheet

Vehicles to Learn English

     What vehicles can you use to facilitate your English learning?  You have four main options.  You can get some help to learn English through self-study, by taking traditional classes, by hiring a private tutor, or by moving to a English speaking country for a while.

     If you choose the first option, you not only need to be careful but you need to be a highly self-motivated person with a high tolerance for boredom.  Studying a foreign language alone is like a caveman finding an ancient scroll and trying to make sense out of it.  It can be done eventually, but it will be a tough road.

     If you do decide to study on your own you have two options.  You can buy a grammar book or you can take an online course.  Either way, make sure that you buy or take a course that has audio practice.  This is an absolute must if you want to learn how to pronounce the language.

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Free Time and Hobbies Board Game

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School Items, Places, and Subjects Tic-Tac-Toe or Bingo Card Game

     The second option is to take an old-fashioned in-house English course from a physical school.  This is a fine option if you have the time and energy to go to a class after work or on the weekends.

     If you choose this option, be sure to ask the school what their teaching approach is.  Ask questions like, "Do you use a book?", "Do you use multimedia in the classes?", "Do you play games?".  This will give you an idea of what you can expect.  Will the teacher merely explain the grammar and translate vocabulary then ask you to fill in the blank lines in a book or will he/she have other tools at his/her disposal to make the classes come to life?  

     If the school operates in a truly old-school fashion you might as well save yourself a lot of money, buy a book, and stay home.  Anyone can read the grammar and fill in blank lines on their own.

   The third option you have is to hire a private tutor.  This is probably the best option out of the bunch.  It can be pricey, but if you have the extra cash, it can be money well spent.  

 Having a tutor at your disposal will allow you to practice what you study in a traditional class or on your own.  Tutors can also teach grammar and vocabulary but it's an expensive way to go about learning these aspects of the language.

     There are many online English tutors available.  All you need to do is search Google and you will come up with a list.  Be sure to read how each site operates, what the costs are, and how their system works before you sign up.

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Daily Activities Board Game

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Vacations and Sightseeing Spots Board Game

     The last option you have is moving to an English-speaking country in order to immerse yourself in the language for a period of time.

     Not only is this the most expensive option but it can be a bit overrated by some enthusiasts.  I am a native English speaker but I have lived in a Spanish speaking country for almost twenty years so I can attest to the fact that just because you live in a place where the target language is spoken doesn't mean you are going to pick up on it any faster.  As a matter of fact, the opposite might be true as it has been in my case.  

     As a native English speaker and expert in its field, my new Spanish speaking country couldn't wait to hire me.  I was so excited to improve my Spanish that I couldn't wait to get started.  However, no one at work ever wanted to speak Spanish with me.  Quite the contrary.  My co-workers saw me as an opportunity to practice their English. 

     Other folks, such as my husband's family, who are all native speakers of Spanish, just stared at me in confusion when I tried to speak to them.  My husband told me that it was because they didn't understand my American accent. 

     Most of the other people I came in contact with just couldn't be bothered to take the time I needed to try and help me translate a word much less to assist my learning process!  People at banks or other public establishments, also stared at me before they looked to my husband, who is obviously Latino, and pled with their eyes for him to intervene.  It has been my husband who has wound up getting a lot more time to practice Spanish than I have.

Conclusion

     Well, that was a lot. Not only did we cover the reasons why people want to learn English, what you need to learn, how to learn it, and where to learn it but we discussed the methods, materials, and manners to learn the language in the most enjoyable and efficient way possible.  I sincerely hope that you found the information useful and that I have whetted your appetite for the elements of the main course.   Continue to snack on English by reading our other useful articles about grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

Reference Links

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