Many people come to our English training organization complaining that they have been learning English for years with X and Z school, but still struggle to strike up a conversation in English.
I have identified 4 main reasons why traditional private language school classes often do not help people with their spoken English. For each reason below, I will provide a solution designed to boost your learning and take your English to the next level.
1. Classes are too general and/or too big
Traditional English classes are usually organized along financial lines, so you can often expect large classes with various skill levels, even if they are advertised as “intermediate” level.
If English is a hobby or you don’t have a need to improve quickly, large general classes are fine. If your classes are grouped around a specific need, with an exam focus for example, a traditional class can still work.
But if you need to see a specific improvement in your spoken English quickly, this big generalized class is a big mistake. Yes, it might be a cheaper way to learn, but in the long run you will spend more time and money using irrelevant material, listening to other foreign students’ mistakes, and very little time actively speaking the English you need to practice and improve. .
Wouldn’t you rather spend your time and money on something else?
Write your reasons for learning. Set yourself realistic ‘functional’ goals and be as specific as possible: eg ‘I want to speak English more confidently to customers on the phone’. Submit it to your English school if you are already attending classes. Can you help with this by hosting 1-1 or small classes with a similar focus? If not, it’s time to find another teacher/school that is guaranteed to help you with your specific needs. The key is to learn 1-1 or in very small groups to maximize practice time and ensure classes are 100% focused on your needs.
2. Teachers teach you what they think you should know, instead of what you need to know.
Teachers are taught that a good lesson has a balance of reading, writing, speaking, and listening at all times. This is fine and makes sense for many students, unless their goal is to improve their spoken English.
To be of benefit to you, everything must serve only to promote your oral skills. Indeed, this could mean reading a passage or taking notes, but only to further your goal; to speak better English.
Insist on a spoken approach. If you are asked to consistently read/write long passages, ask how this helps your oral progress. If you are not satisfied, it is time to find another teacher or school. In addition to your goals (in 1 above) explain to your new teacher that your lesson should focus on speaking English.
3. The material in English is not specific to your needs
While helpful, many teachers rely too heavily on the course book or print out a ready-to-use lesson. What steps has the teacher taken to ensure that the class a) meets your needs, b) is interesting and relevant to you?
A good teacher will take a lot of time at the beginning of their classes to do a comprehensive ‘needs analysis’, which is an analysis of your weaknesses, goals and functional needs in English. This helps the teacher understand why he is learning and then prepare the correct lessons.
Ask a new teacher if they will conduct a detailed analysis of your needs before or during your first lesson. If they look blank or insecure, it’s time to find another teacher. If you are already having lessons, are the lessons ‘fit’ and relevant? If not, request a needs analysis lesson to reinforce your goals and get your learning back on track.
4. Poor or inexperienced teachers talk too much
The next time you’re in class, make a note of how long you’re talking about compared to how long your teacher is talking. In general, you should be talking 2/3 of the time. If your teacher talks too much, you are not practicing your English enough. Even if you have 1-1 lessons, maybe your teacher has become too talkative. Good teachers put a lot of practice time into the lesson.
Take note of how long you are speaking in some lessons. Ask for more oral practice if it is not enough. Consider an alternative method of learning. Learning by phone/Skype means every second is focused on speaking and listening. Since there are no ‘body language’ cues, you will quickly learn to be more precise and fluent in English to make yourself understood. It is an excellent focused language training.
The solution to low-quality large classes is to know your English goals and find an English small group or 1-1 class that is guaranteed to meet them. Consider other ways of learning, such as Skype or phone learning, to really focus on your English speaking skills.
Don’t waste your valuable money or time on general teaching. Large classes of generalized instruction will only mean slow progress for you and you will not reach your specific spoken English goals.
Take ownership of your learning and regularly check if you are reaching your real-life speaking goals! These are the best ways to boost your learning and take your English to the next level.
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