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Education - The secret of learning English

Giugno 2017
C’è chi prende lezioni da una vita e si sente sempre un beginner. C’è chi fa corsi su corsi, ma quando arriva l’amico americano in visita cade in preda al panico e non spiccica una parola.  Qual è il segreto per imparare davvero l’inglese?  Ce lo svela la nostra esperta.

di Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts
Rachel Roberts

I know the secret of learning English. It’s very, very simple and it really works. In fact you could say it’s the secret of learning just about anything.
People often ask me for coaching to pass English exams. When students discover their dream course in a prestigious university in the UK or the USA they also find out that to do this course they need to have an upper intermediate level of English with fairly sophisticated grammar and lexis, and a good accent that is easy to understand. Most students, however, have a much lower level. They can survive while travelling in an English-speaking country and maybe express a few simple opinions, but not much more than that.

don’t waste your time!

The problem is that it takes a huge amount of learning to get from a low intermediate to a high intermediate level. I’m talking about hundreds of hours of English! So when candidates, who could just about survive while travelling in the UK, come to me and tell me that they have their exam in two weeks time I usually tell them not to waste their time and money.


And yet that jump from a low to a high level is not impossible. You just need to know the secret and be able to apply it. The secret is this: a deep and sincere enthusiasm for learning English. If that sounds like an old cliché, believe me it’s not. You need true motivation.
A woman I know recently asked me for English lessons. “I’ve been studying it for years,” she said, “but I just can’t seem to learn it. And it would be quite useful for my job.” When I told her not to bother, she was shocked. However, I know that “I’ve been studying the language for years” usually means “I’ve done a few courses with long breaks between them.” And the words “It would be quite useful for my work” do not express strong motivation or enthusiasm.

The fear factor

What I need to hear is something like: “My company is sending me to Manchester in two weeks time. I absolutely must improve my English.” Or, as a young student said to me recently, “My parents can’t afford to pay for this exam more than once. I’ve got three weeks to prepare and I’ve only got one shot at it.”


This particular candidate needed an excellent result to be able to do his dream course in America. I tested him and discovered his English was pretty weak, so I gave him my usual warnings. He insisted, however, and, when he sat the exam he got a very high grade. Magic? No, he was just deeply motivated; so much so that he taught himself! He recorded every lesson! He listened intently to every word I said and, after I’d gone he listened to the recording and took careful notes. He then spent a couple of days immersed in English, walking around town listening to podcasts from the BBC and the Economist website and making notes about those too. When I arrived at the next lesson he was ready for me with a list of questions based on his studies. It was the best teaching ever because he controlled the lesson according to his needs and I became what a real teacher should be: a guide!


So how do you find this motivation? Some people pay for expensive language courses, thinking that if they’ve paid the money they’ll feel obliged to attend, but it doesn’t always work like that. What you do by yourself for free will almost certainly have more value for you. If you find it hard to get interested in English, remember that you will have far greater access to documentaries, podcasts, articles, blogs and chat rooms about things you are interested in, if you master the English language. This is simply because there is so much more stuff in English on the Internet.

more than a language

Whether your passion is music, sport, or even knitting, there will almost certainly be someone out there who wants to talk to you about it. Don’t worry if you’re not focussing on exam-style language. Any interactive contact in English will always be helpful and the more you do it, the more you will want to continue. You may discover things about your favourite subject that you couldn’t have discovered in your own country or language, and once that happens, you’ll certainly feel more and more motivated to communicate in English and your English will improve as a result.

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