Balanced English Learning – Improve the Way You Study English

Hi, I’m Oli. Welcome to Oxford Online English! Many English learners have similar problems,
and say the same things: “I’ve been studying for years, but I still can’t speak fluently!” “How can I remember vocabulary?” “How do I stop translating in my head?” In this video, we’ll talk about what it
means to learn English, why so many learners have these problems, and what you can do to
learn more effectively. First, have you seen our website? Go check it out! Oxford Online English dot com. You can find videos, listening lessons, quizzes
and professional teachers who you can study with if you need classes. Also, one more thing. Don’t forget to turn on the captions if you
need them! All our videos have captions in English, some
have captions in other languages too. Click the ‘CC’ button in the bottom right
to turn on captions now. Let’s start with a question: what does it
mean to learn something? No, really, think about it. When you say, “I learned this,” what do
you mean? Actually, it can mean different things. All learning depends on three things: theory,
memory and practice. You need to understand ideas and concepts—theory. You need to remember ideas and how to do things—memory. And, you need to use things in real life—practice. When you learn something, you need a balance
between these three things, and you need the right balance. If you don’t get the balance right, you’ll
find it difficult to learn. You’ll waste time and energy, and you’ll probably
get worse results than you could have. Let’s talk about this balance in more detail. When you learn different things, you need
different amounts of theory, memorisation, and practice. For example, think about learning to ride
a bike. Do you need theory, or memorisation? Not really! No one learns to ride a bike by reading books. You get on a bike, and you try. You fall off; you try again. It’s almost 100 per cent practice. Let’s take a very different example: aeronautical
engineering, meaning designing aeroplanes and rockets. OK, I’ll be honest: I don’t know, because
I’m not an aeronautical engineer, but I’m guessing that it’s a lot of theory and memorisation,
and less practice, because when you’re designing a plane or a rocket, you should get it right
first time. So, what’s the point? When you learn different things, you need
a different balance of these three areas—theory, memorisation and practice. What about learning English? Here’s my suggestion. It’s not meant to be something precise. This isn’t statistics. What does this mean for you? Many English learners have problems because
they get this balance wrong, and they get it wrong in similar ways. What are the biggest problems English learners
have here? One: they focus too much on theory. Two: they try to use theory and memorisation
to replace practice. Three: they leave memorisation to luck. And Four: they don’t practice enough, or effectively. These mistakes lead to all the common English-learner
complaints: “I’ve been studying for years but I can’t speak fluently!”, “I learn
vocabulary, but I can’t remember it!”, and so on. Let’s see what you can do about these problems,
and how you can make your English learning more effective. In this section, we’re going to talk about
the first two problems: focusing too much on theory, and using theory and memorisation
to replace practice. Actually, this isn’t English learners’
fault. Many people learn English—and other languages—in
a theory-heavy way at school or university. Then, they think this is what language learning
means: sitting in a classroom, doing grammar exercises, and so on. Theory is part of English learning. Going to a language class might be useful. Doing grammar exercises can be helpful in
the right situation. But, here’s the key point: practice comes
first. Practice should come before theory. Using a language is a practical skill. It’s more like riding a bike than designing an airplane or a rocket. You can’t replace practice by studying theory. You can’t learn to speak by doing exercises
from a book. You can’t learn to write essays by reading
other people’s essays. Here’s a question: do you have problems
speaking fluently, because you’re translating whole sentences in your head? Yes? If you do, that’s a sign that you’ve studied
English in a way which depends too much on theory and not enough on practice. If you do this, you end up trying to ‘calculate’
sentences in your head. That’s really hard! It’s like doing complex maths at high speed. Of course you can’t speak fluently if you’re
doing this. Again, theory is not useless! Studying theory is not useless. But, you have to put practice first. If you want to learn to speak, you have to
speak. If you want to learn to write, you have to
write. Theoretical study should support your practice. What does that mean? Let’s take something which for many people
is the biggest symbol of boring English lessons—grammar exercises. Grammar exercises can be extremely useful! But, you should only do them only when you
really need them. For example, imagine you’re speaking English
regularly, but you’re not good at using the present perfect. You know something about it, and you hear
other people use it, and you know that you can’t use it well when you speak. That’s the right moment to take your grammar
book and read about the present perfect and do some exercises. More generally, you should only study theory—like
grammar rules or vocabulary exercises—when you already know what you need. Don’t take your grammar book, or your vocabulary
book, and start at unit one and say, “I’m going to study this whole book!” Have you ever done that? I have. It doesn’t work. You won’t finish the book. You probably won’t even finish the first
three units. It’s boring and it doesn’t help you. Get a good grammar book. Get a good vocabulary book. Get books on writing, or IELTS, or whatever
you need. Then, take what you need when you need it. If you don’t know what something is, then
you don’t need it yet. If you aren’t sure whether you need something
or not, then you don’t need it yet. By the way, I’m not making this stuff up. It comes directly from my own language-learning experiences. As you might know, I live in Greece. My Greek is not that good. [speak some Greek] I haven’t really studied
formally. At one point, I realised that I didn’t know
how to form the past tense. I knew *some* past verbs, but I couldn’t
make past forms which I hadn’t seen before. Obviously, using past forms is very helpful. In any conversation, you’ll probably need
a past verb at some point. So, I found some grammar notes, did some exercises,
and I learned how to make past forms. It wasn’t boring or difficult, because I
felt I needed it. And, it helped me immediately, so I remembered
most of what I studied. Here’s a summary: put practice first. When you feel you need something theoretical,
like a grammar point or vocabulary on a certain topic, then go and study it. You need to feel that you need it, because
otherwise it probably won’t stay in your head. The same is true with memorising things. There’s no point memorising something unless
you know you need it. Don’t learn a big list of vocabulary which
you’ll probably never use. Go out and practise, talk to people, write
something, find out what you can’t say and which ideas you can’t express, and then
learn those words. Let’s move on and talk more about memorisation. Remember the problem that we said many English
learners have with memorisation? Too many English learners leave memorisation
to luck. Memorisation isn’t enough by itself to learn
a language. But, it is an important point. For example, take a topic which many English
learners find difficult: preposition use. Should I use ‘at’ or ‘on’? What’s the difference between ‘to’ and
‘for’? Why do I need to use ‘on’ here? Often, leaners approach this like other grammar
topics, where you start by learning rules. But, there aren’t really rules, or at least,
not so many useful ones. Learning to use prepositions is more about
memorising lots and lots and lots of information. You have to memorise specific word combinations
and phrases. Why do you say ‘it depends on’ and not
‘it depends of’? There’s no good reason. You just need to remember: ‘depend’ plus
‘on’. Many other topics are like this. They depend more on memory than theory. If you can’t remember the information, then
you can’t use the language correctly. At this point, you’ll start thinking in
your language. Then you’re translating, which means you’re
calculating sentences again, which doesn’t give you good results. So, memorisation is necessary. Here’s another point about memorisation:
it’s measurable. A question: imagine you try to learn ten new
words. How many will you remember next week? How many will you remember next month? How many will you remember in a year? What do you think? Say a number. When I ask most students these questions,
they almost all say that they’ll remember zero words in a year. If that’s true for you, then why learn these
new words? There’s no point learning something if you’re
just going to forget it again. Also, that’s not really learning! So, what’s the solution? The first part you already know: put practice
first. You won’t remember things if you’re not using them. Practice needs to come first. Don’t try to memorise things you don’t need. Just like you shouldn’t study theory unless you need it right now. Secondly: make a system for memorisation. If you’ve watched our other videos,
you might already know what I’m going to talk about. “Is he going to tell us to use Anki again?” Yes, yes I am. If you don’t know, Anki is a very powerful
digital flashcard app. It lets you practice with questions and answers
on your laptop or phone or tablet, and it’s designed to help you memorise large amounts
of information. I’m not getting paid by Anki or anything
like that. I’m telling you this because I know it works
from my experience. I’ll tell you: I lived in China and I studied
Chinese, including writing. Learning to write in Chinese involves a huge
amount of memorisation. To write at a basic level, you need to know
around one to two thousand characters. I spent three years in China, and at the end
I took a C1-level exam, which is equivalent to around band 7 or 7.5 in IELTS. That meant I had to write essays and other
things in Chinese. So, I went from basically zero to C1 level
in three years, and Anki helped a lot. You don’t have to use Anki. There are other flashcard apps. You don’t have to use a flashcard app. There are other ways to memorise things. But, you should have a system, and you should
ask yourself how well that system works. Think about the question you saw before: if
you try to memorise ten things today, how many will you remember in a year? It won’t be ten. Nothing’s perfect! And, that’s fine. But, it shouldn’t be zero either. Whatever you do to memorise things, it should
work. The information should stay in your head. If it doesn’t work, then try something different! Or, don’t do it at all! There’s no point in memorising something if you’re going to forget it again. Spend your time on something better. Don’t leave memorisation to luck. You don’t have to! There are tools you can use. Also, even if you’re lazy, you should do
this. In fact, especially if you’re lazy, you
should do this. Why? Because being systematic about memorisation
will save you so much time, effort and stress in the long term. Many English learners get demotivated because
they go in circles, studying the same things over and over and over again; learning and
forgetting and learning and forgetting and learning and forgetting… Everyone’s motivation is limited. If this is you, you’ll give up eventually. You’ll waste a lot of time and money and
energy. So, be systematic about memorisation. Measure your results! Be a scientist. Save your time, save your money, and save
your energy. But, remember: memorisation isn’t everything. The most important thing is practice. Let’s talk about that! You know this already: practice is the most
important part of learning English. Here are some questions many English learners
have about practicing: “How do I find someone to practice with?” “Can I practice by myself?” In this section, we’ll talk about effective
practice. I’ll start by answering these questions. You might not like my answers! First: how do you find someone to practice
with? I don’t know. You have to solve that problem. You can make friends with English speakers,
do a language exchange, join a conversation group, pay for a language school, or pay for
a private teacher. I don’t know what’s possible for you. You have to find your own solution here. I’m not trying to be unkind; it’s just
reality. But, I’ll say this: learning to do anything
will cost you time or money or both. If you have more time than money, then use
your time. Look for English speakers or English-speaking
groups online or near where you live. Or, start your own! If you have more money than time, then pay
for a teacher or a class. What about the second question: can you practice
effectively by yourself? No, not really. Why not? Because effective practice needs feedback. To be clear, practising by yourself can be
useful, but only if you’re also practising with other people and getting feedback regularly. If you’re *only* practising by yourself,
it won’t work. So, what *should* you do to practice effectively? One: practice as much as possible. Two: practise as widely as possible. Talk to many people, about many different
things. Write different kinds of texts, on as many
different topics as you can. Three: make sure you have feedback. Feedback doesn’t have to be formal. It doesn’t have to come from a teacher,
although sometimes that might be necessary. Feedback can be simple. For example, if you say something to someone,
and they go like this [confused face], that’s feedback! It tells you that what you said wasn’t clear. Four: practice accurately. Accept that you will make mistakes, but don’t
be happy about it. Try to speak and write as accurately as you
can. Work on your mistakes and your weaknesses
continually. Five: practice repetitively. Practice repetitively? Why? Repetition is boring. OK, I know. But, it’s effective! Many English learners ask “How can I stop
translating in my head?” Well, I’ll tell you the answer right now! It’s not complicated. When people ask me this question, I ask them
a question back. Actually, I have a simple conversation with
them: “Hello! How are you? Where are you from?” Let’s try it now together: hello! How are you? Where are you from? Do you have to translate in your head to answer
those questions? Most people say that they don’t. Why not? It’s because you’ve answered these questions
hundreds of times. You can answer automatically. You don’t have to think, and you don’t
have to translate from your language. That’s the solution right there. If you don’t want to translate in your head,
then you have to respond automatically. To do that, you have to practice and repeat
the same things many, many times. So, when you practice, don’t talk about
a topic once, talk about it many times. Don’t practice answering a question once;
repeat your answer over and over again. Don’t write an essay once. Get feedback, and then write an improved version. Build repetition into your practice, and you’ll
get better results. I hope this lesson was useful for you. Thanks very much for watching!

20 thoughts on “Balanced English Learning – Improve the Way You Study English”

  1. Do you want to see more English study advice lessons? Or look for lesson on another topic? Browse through our free lessons to see what we have!

  2. today i can understand 60% many things the teacher Oli say, today a can listen teacher Oli, this situation only the tecnology is able to do. I try to learn english 1 year ago. I want to say many things more, but i do not know more words. The most importan for me is to say thank you Oxford online english . I´m Mexican

  3. mình nghĩ với video như này nên có phụ đề tiếng việt thì tốt hơn với những người không giỏi tiếng anh như mình

  4. Amazing the right words at the right time. to be honest, I'm astonished with this lesson. Well done guys amazing

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