1. Learn with your eyes not with your ears
Learning with your ears helps you improve BOTH your speaking and your writing skills, but this doesn’t work the other way round. So how does listening to English help improve my English writing?
Learning with your ears helps improve your spelling. How an English word is spelt depends on its pronunciation. Once you’re able to read out a word loud, given that you have basic knowledge about phonics, you will be able to spell a word. Thus, learning with your ears help you learn to spell a word.
Learning with your ears helps you improve your accuracy. The reason for this is that remembering the SOUND of English internalises grammatical rules. Have you ever felt overwhelmed for spending all that time simply to form a grammatical-error-free sentence? This is something that rarely happens to native speakers, many of whose writing is error-free pretty much automatically. Writing ungrammatically simply doesn’t feel natural to them. This is because they have gotten used to English which sounds correct, but not that is opposite. It would be so useful for you to do the same.
Learning with your ears helps you improve your speed in writing/fluency in speaking. If you learn with your ears, because you’ve stored your knowledge of grammar in the quickly retrievable format of an “audio file” in your brain, you do not have to reason from scratch all over again when you write or speak. You simply have to “transcribe” when you write or let out that voice in your head when you speak. And when you’ve done enough listening, you do not have to translate what you think in your language to English. You will be able to think in English. All this will all come automatically when you dedicate yourself to a HUGE amount of listening. Sounds awesome, huh?
2. Replace exposure with drills
The reason why you must learn by exposing yourself to real English is that real English is different from drills. Real English is messy and weird.
Grammatical drills and exercises provide a controlled environment where you practice. Most of the times, the exercises you do will be on a certain grammatical topic. Of course, these exercises have the merits of allowing you to focus on a certain aspect of the language and learn all the rules in it thoroughly. But all drilling without real exposure to English used by real users is like trying to learn diving in a pool. you will never know how to react to unexpected circumstances, just like you will never learn how to cope with the words you don’t know when you hear someone speak.
Real English is different from drills because it contains everything you can expect to find in a living language. It is ingrained with cultural references, idiomatic expressions and, most importantly, structures and words that you possibly haven’t learned or even come across. Real English is weird and messy. People could be sarcastic. There could be insider’s jokes. Exposure to real English allows you become more comfortable with to all these uncertainties. It allows you not just to learn the language, but also learn the culture of the language. Exposure enhances your ability to understand the language because you will learn how to deduce meanings based on what you already know as well.
3. Ignore textbooks
Some people go to the extreme of not using a textbook at all. Some teachers recommend not using a textbook at all. This is not practical advice, especially not for second language learners, for whom textbooks provide a theoretical basis for your learning, with which you can not just imitate, but also understand how English works.
A textbook places the knowledge you need to acquire into neat categories. It divides knowledge into topics and allows you to learn the topics one by one without swamping you with everything and confusing you. Learning English by speaking it and writing it is the practice; while Learning English by reading textbooks is the theory. If you’ve had enough practice, you may be able to use the language correctly, but you won’t understand why it should be used that way. Textbooks help you understand and iterate exactly how the rules of English work. And using a language is not just about following the rules; it’s also about BREAKING the rules. And if you don’t know the rules well in the first place, how do you break them? Textbooks remind you of the importance to reason and find the patterns in a language. Reading textbooks also mean that you do not have to produce your own theories about how English works from scratch, thus greatly speeding up your learning process.
4. Focus entirely on what to learn, neglecting not how to learn
The better you’re at learning, the faster you will be able to learn, so it really makes good economic sense to actively become a better learner.
And to do that, as an English learner, you have to keep asking yourself: how do you strengthen and consolidate your memory by association? How do you build good English learning habits and incorporate doing English into your daily routine? How do you become more proactive in language learning? How do you find the right people to practise with? How to keep up your morale in learning? These are all the questions that you ought to be asking yourself if you want to succeed in your learning. Learning is not about cramming or stuffing yourself up with knowledge. It is about getting the psychology right. It’s about knowing what the right kind of mentality means and adopting it. Too many students focus solely on what to learn, instead of how to learn. Develop the habit of always giving serious thoughts to how to learn a language better. Read books and watch videos about how to learn a language if you’re not good at thinking how. Then, instead of relying on all the advice people have, THINK whether their advice makes sense and experiment with it to confirm. Not all language learning advice is created equal. Not all language learning advice is helpful. Listening to advice doesn’t mean you need all of them. However, it does mean, however, constantly reflecting on how you can learn even more efficiently. Think of “learning how to learn” as the muscle building exercise and the “actual learning” as the aerobic exercise. The better you’re at building muscles and the more muscles you have, the more efficient you will be able to burn fat through aerobic exercise. The better you’re at learning, the faster you will be able to learn. So it really does make sense to actively make yourself become a better learner, does it not?
5. Put logic before habit building
Some students apparently think that understanding how English works means being able to use it well. Logical thinking will never catch up with the gut when it comes to speed. Thus starting with grammatical and usage rules in your mind and reason your way to the language you produce is inefficient. Always remember that habits come before logic. Develop the habit of using good English. Intimate authentic (and preferably masterful) users of the language. Find a role model to “shadow after”. Be like a parrot. Repeat after great speakers and great writers. Once you’ve done a large amount of imitation, you should have developed strong enough a gut feeling about the language that the right words will flow. The process shouldn’t feel contrived or uninspired, it should feel like you’re writing/speaking without thinking. If you’re thinking while you’re producing the language, that is clear evidence that you’re using your brain instead of your gut. The language you produce won’t feel natural or inspired. People will feel how forced it is and how lacking in colours it is.