What’s the best way to learn English?

Having a method does not mean you are holding a magic wand, but it means you can learn English more effectively and decisively.

Why do you need a method? Can’t you do without it?

Not that you have to adopt a single method in particular. You may choose more aspects of methods or make one up yourself. But if you try to learn English at random (without direction, order and structure) it is easy to get lost and end up learning a little.

Which are the main methods?

  • Grammar-translation / Traditional: This is a traditional method that involves the application of grammatical rules to translate a series of sentences or texts. Clearly the approach does little for speech and pragmatic aspects of the language.
  • Direct / natural: in contrast to the traditional method, the direct method focuses on communication even at the expense of the written grammar. Classes are held only in the ‘target’ language  (that is, in our case English).
  • Audio-lingual: The cup is on the table. The table is on the floor. This approach involves a series of exercises (or ‘drill’) reports that enables the student to repeat the grammatical sentences that change slightly. Just like the direct method, there are no explanations of grammar and the idea is that learning occurs in a natural way. The Callan method is practically an audio-lingual method.
  • Communcative language teaching: The idea is that the engine of language learning is the communicative impulse, that is our desire and our innate need to communicate with others. Instead of teaching grammar or do verbal exercises (‘drills’) the purpose of this method is to create contexts and communicative tasks that, naturally, lead to the discovery and learning. An example of this would be to ask for directions, to present something or to talk to a friend about a newspaper article you read.

In a typical English school which method is used?

So which method is used in thousands of English language schools in Italy and abroad? Often a combination of the methods described above. Clearly the choice of the method is limited by the skill of the teacher and also the fact that most of the schools offer group courses. To me, the most outstanding feature of the group courses is the inability to make students speak much. The ‘de facto’ approach becomes ‘talk and chalk’, which means that the teacher speaks to the class and writes on the board asking questions and occasionally doing an open conversation. Usually the textbook is the central thread of the lesson.

The best method also depends on your learning style

I described the main approaches but in reality each teacher and each school will have a different method (the important thing is that there is a method and that things are not done at random).

Is there a way to speak English better?

There are many ingredients that contribute to fluency in English. We have to learn new vocabulary (in context), you have to practice the pronunciation and learn the rules of grammar in a natural and pragmatic way. The most important thing, however, is to talk, talk, talk. It seems trivial, but you cannot improve the fluency of speech without talking!

In conclusion

In conclusion it is important to think about the technical and strategic aspects while learning English, but it is also important to devote adequate time to practice the verbal aspect.


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