English classes are the most popular way in which people study English. They are so amazingly popular that most people do not even think about how to learn English. The process is automatic: I want to learn English, so I sign up for an English course. I will pay some money, sit in class for a few hours a week, and I will get good English.
This is very surprising, because English classes are a very poor way of learning English. We have spent a large part of our lives in English classes (in high school, college, and at language schools), and we know what they are like. With all our knowledge of English classes and courses, we would be surprised if we met a person who has learned to speak English very well by going to English classes.
If you attend English classes, you spend many hours a week on them. Often, you also spend lots of your money. What do you get for your time and money? Here is what you can do at an English class:
Listen to some bad English. The pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary of other students (and sometimes the teacher, too) will be bad. Sometimes as bad as this, or worse. Surely listening to these people will not make your English better.
Say five sentences in English. There are usually 10-20 students in the class, so there is little time for you to speak English. Normal English classes are very poor speaking practice. (Conversation classes are better.)
Read a boring textbook. Almost all English teachers use textbooks. Want to know why? Because it makes their work easier. They don't have to prepare for every class. They just do the next unit in the book. Textbooks make teaching easy. And they make learning boring and ineffective. You have to read stupid stories about Michael Jackson or a woman who lived in African jungle for two years. Then you have to answer questions about them and talk about them with other students. This is madness! All this nonsense that you don't care about. It makes you think that learning English is boring.
Listen to a few grammar rules, such as "the present continuous tense is used for talking about developing and changing situations". Learning grammar rules is the stupidest thing you can do. The two main reasons: 1) It is impossible to memorize all those hundreds of grammar rules anyway, 2) When speaking English, you don't have time to think: "What tense should I use? Let's see... I want to present the idea of action continuing up to the present time, so I should use the present perfect tense." You want to use your English naturally. Grammar rules may improve your scores in tests, but they do not improve your English.
Do some grammar exercises. After talking about grammar rules, teachers usually give you some exercises, such as multiple choice or gap filling tests. Grammar exercises have two functions: 1) they make you review the grammar rules, 2) they test your English. The first function is useless because grammar rules are useless (see previous section). The second function, testing, is okay if you want to compare your knowledge with other people. But testing does not teach you any English.
Get a homework assignment. The homework is usually a grammar exercise (see previous section) or a composition. The subject of the composition will usually be something that you don't care about. Examples: Your opinion on the proverb "Blood is thicker than water", Is it good to be famous?. What nonsense. Doing boring things is not going to help your English. It will only decrease your motivation.
English classes will not teach you good pronunciation (which is simply necessary for communication!). Most teachers completely ignore it, sometimes because their own pronunciation is bad. Some teachers will correct your mistakes when you speak. But very few teachers will tell you how you can avoid making the same mistakes again. Very few teachers will tell you about the sounds of English and how to use a dictionary to learn about the pronunciation of words.
Most teachers will not encourage you to read in English, to buy a good English-English dictionary, to listen to English-language recordings on your own. They will just do their textbook and the exercises in it. If your teacher is different, you are lucky.
This is what most English classes look like. Think about your classes. If they are like that — boring and ineffective — then you are simply wasting your time. (Don't worry: you are not alone. Millions of people around the world waste their time by going to English classes, even though they do not improve their English.)
You can replace ineffective and boring classes with interesting things which will really improve your English:
Instead of listening to bad English in the classroom, turn on your TV and watch CNN International or another English-language channel. You will get lots of perfect sentences in excellent English.
Instead of sitting for two hours to say five sentences in English, sign up for a conversation class with a native speaker. Or start speaking English with your best friend.
Instead of working with a boring textbook, read something interesting. There are so many interesting texts in English! Surf to English-language sites on the Web. Read a good book in English. Simply, read something that interests you. Something that won't bore you to death.
Instead of memorizing grammar rules and doing grammar exercises, read and listen to English. Input is the only way to learn impressive, natural English.
Instead of writing compositions about the subject that your teacher gave you, write about something that you care about. For example, write some e-mail in English. Don't write for your teacher — write for yourself!
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