Friday, 18 May 2012

Learning languages: The many secrets of self-teaching

The nice folks at Kaplan International recently got in touch to let me know about their How to Learn English bloggers competition. All that interested bloggers had to do was write a blog post about Kaplan's How to Learn English infographic, which shows the results of a survey about the different ways to learn English.

What appealed me most about it was that the methods that obtained the highest rates were actually self-teaching methods, instead of the commonest, traditional and most boring paths that most language teachers tend to follow. Why? Well, because having been born in Spain, a country where English teaching leaves much to be desired, my passion for this language since I was a little child later translated into the search for new ways to learn English on my own.

Kaplan’s infographic starts comparing the effectiveness of English lessons in the learner’s own country, online lessons and independent study, as opposed to travelling to an English-speaking country. The students at Kaplan are clever enough and know that the ideal combination would be travelling to an English-speaking country, attending lessons and practising their English with others. You know what they say – "practice makes perfect." Apparently, the USA and the UK are their favourite destinations (erm... I wonder if they know what the British weather is like!). Of course, you can be a language genius even if you study in your own country, but if you are truly passionate about English, I would definitely recommend living in an English-speaking country so that you can talk regularly to native friends. That is what is really going to teach you 'real', everyday English including slang and a proper accent and pronunciation while you build up your grammar with the relevant books or lessons.

The infographic goes on to explore the TV programmes, films, music, computer games and comics categories.

I literally grew up watching Friends and, it doesn‘t matter how many times I've seen the chapters, they still make me laugh! It won’t surprise you then that I totally agree with the survey’s results regarding TV programmes. I would like to say something about films/TV programmes and subtitles, since everyone seems to have a different opinion about it. Some people think that if you turn the subtitles on you will never develop your hearing, but actually not using the subtitles can lead to the spectator’s confusion and knowledge stagnation in the case of lower-level language students. Besides, subtitles can be very useful to learn new vocabulary at that particular stage, so it all depends on the language level of the spectator.

Now, what better way to assess the effectiveness of TV programmes and films to learn English than putting it into practice? See how many lines you can catch from this Friends video:

Ooops, sorry, that was not the one! Hard to understand, eh?!

This is the good one:

Music has definitely been the alternative method that has taught me most, and still does! It occupies a big part in my life and I love analysing the lyrics of a song as I listen to it. This is going to sound weird but, at the age of 12-14, not only did I try to understand the lyrics of my favourite songs, but at times I would record a song from the radio and then sit down, take a piece of paper and try to write the lyrics while listening to them. Not even the continuous rewinding was enough to stop me from staying there until I had done my best. Crazy! And a little freaky too...

This is a really easy song to follow if your English is not very good yet:

Now see how you do with this one:

How about this song?

Computer games and comics are just two more examples of entertaining and interesting ways to improve language knowledge and comprehension. After all, comics are books and computer games often combine written and oral speech. Obviously, reading in English (novels, newspapers, magazines, anything!) helps you acquire new vocabulary and ways of expression in no time, especially if you are enjoying your reading. And don’t forget that, although it is always good to have a dictionary at hand, guessing the meaning of a word by the context is sometimes a faster and more effective way to learn English!

Now get ready for the last test:

So which of the previous methods have you enjoyed the most? And which do you think is the most suitable for your language needs? Grammar books are essential when it comes to language learning, as they provide you with an invaluable knowledge basis. However, we can’t forget that beyond that there is a wide range of alternative possibilities for those who have already gained some fluency and want to make the most of their language learning while having a great time.


  1. nice opinion.. thanks for posting.

    1. Thank you! I'm glad my post is of help to someone :-)