What makes a perfect English language learner? Part 2

Following on from part 1 of what makes a perfect English language learner, here are a few more points.

If she can do it, anyone can.
Photo by Kat

Perfect students are always happy, even when they can’t master the verb to be. I know speaking in another language can change people’s personalities, I certainly come across as quite serious when I speak in Spanish, or at least I did, but there’s no reason why you can’t smile now and then while learning. 

It might not actually help you remember those tricky double phrasal verb definitions, or aid you in understanding the 4th conditional, but it will make the whole learning process more enjoyable, especially for the teacher. A happy class is not a miserable class.

Focus on the verb ‘to be.’

A perfect student means perfect grammar. But we all know perfect grammar is hard to master, so to make your lives easier I’d recommend focussing on the verb ‘to be,’ particularly the third person ‘s.’ This won’t guarantee fluency, or ensure you’ll be able to have a decent conversation with a native speaker, nor will it necessarily mean achieving a B1 or B2 level of English. But you will get on the good side of your teacher, and when your parents test you to check whether you ‘know English’ by reciting the verb ‘to be’ chart then you’ll impress.

Think in English

The best language learners think in the new language. When I first started to learn Spanish, in an adult course after university, I used to recite vocabulary in my head on the way home. I may have looked like a fool muttering to myself in Spanish as I strolled past old ladies watering their flowers, but it helped.

Just think about it, how much time do you actually think during the day? We are constantly talking to ourselves, planning our day, worrying about things, preparing conversation with people, so why can’t you train your brain to do that in English?

That’s what I did when I first came to Sevilla, I thought a lot, effectively spoke to myself, in Spanish. Before I met up with my girlfriend, now wife, I’d prepare questions I wanted to ask her in my mind in Spanish, I still do. You can even record yourself and then play it back and listen to how awful you sound (only teasing).
Take notes

Unless you are like that robot from short circuit who can read a Chinese dictionary and suddenly start speaking the language, then buy yourself a pretty notebook and make some notes during class. Not just notes about who you would least like to sit next to in class, or which deadly animal you’d like to set on your English teacher, but real, useful, colourful notes on what you’ve learnt.

My two best students last year, one at B1 level and the other at B2 level, were constantly taking notes, keeping their vocabulary up to date, and were interested in improving their level. There’s only so much the teacher can help with, so make the most of it and keep a record. If you don’t do this then there’s no way you’ll ever improve. My grandmother once said ‘the best students are those who make a lot of notes and memorise them,’ so there you go.

Think you know more than the teacher

Okay, I’ll admit it, during my first years as an English teacher I did wing it a few times. Of course I didn’t really know how to explain the difference between the present perfect and past simple at times, and my knowledge about parts of speech was shocking, but I’ve taught myself what I’ve needed to know.

We are not walking dictionaries, we do make mistakes, we don’t know the reasoning behind the entire English language, but 90% of the time we are right. Sometimes you just have to accept that things are the way they are, just because.

In some cases you may know more rules than your teacher, you may even pronounce some words better, depending on where your teacher is from, but there is nothing worse than a student who constantly questions their teacher. Just have some faith, believe in your teacher’s life experience as an English speaker, and stop being a pain in the neck, to put it politely.

So, there you go. Now you know how to be a perfect English language learner, are you going to make some changes? Any more advice from TEFL teachers out there?

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