What Options Do You Have for Learning English?
“What options do I have for learning English as a foreign language?“
Surprisingly, this is a question that many English learners never ask themselves. I’ve met a lot of English learners who never actually did any research before they enrolled in a course, downloaded an app, or signed up for a class. Personally, I like to know which options are available to me and the pros and cons of each one before I make a choice. I don’t wanna waste my time going down the wrong path, you feel me? So in this article, I’m gonna lay out all the options you’ve got for learning English as a foreign language. So you can pick the best option for you, stop making excuses, and start making progress.
Your options for learning English
Traditional language schools are probably still the most popular choice for people who want to learn English. Personally, I don’t think this is because language schools are the most effective, it’s just because most people think that’s the only logical choice they have.
They think, “When I want to learn a new subject, I need to go to a school and take a class”.
The environment feels familiar. When you’re in a classroom, you know you’re there to be instructed, tested, and then certified in a particular subject or discipline. That’s how we did it in school, that’s how it’s done at university, so that must be the correct way to learn.
The problem with the methodology of traditional schools is that it’s all theory, and no practice.
What is ‘theory’? — a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based.
What is ‘practice’? — the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it.
So what I’m trying to say is, schools typically teach you to obsess over the technical aspects of the language like phrasal verbs, prepositions, and the second conditional. (The way we form sentences and choose our words is based on the underlying principles like these.)
The problem I see with this methodology is it almost never encourages the students to put these theories into practice. Instead, it encourages them to memorize information and pass a test.
But passing a written exam isn’t proof that you know how to do something. It just means you know how something is done. (I can tell you how Messi scores a goal, but I don’t know how to score a goal like Messi.)
For example, let’s imagine you wanted to learn how to play soccer. So you show up at the academy ready to learn. But before you can play, the instructor says you’re gonna need to sign a 3-year contract, pay a hefty enrollment fee, buy some books you’re never gonna use, follow a learning path that wasn’t made for you specifically, and sit in a classroom reading about the rules of the game of soccer and then being tested on your knowledge of those rules.
Imagine doing that every week for 3 years… never once kicking a ball, never once training your footwork, never once working on your endurance… just reading and writing about the game, hoping to wake up one day with this magical ability to play the game like Messi.
That’s what a typical English learner experiences every day of the week at these language schools.
Now, I said that I was gonna tell you the pros and cons of each option, but I really can’t think of any benefits of going to a traditional school.
- You waste time going to and from the physical location.
- You pay for materials you don’t need.
- You don’t practice the skill that you’re paying good money to learn.
- You have almost zero support from the school outside of class.
- The classes aren’t personalized for anyone particular.
- In my humble opinion, there are more practical and effective ways to learn a language.
Private online classes have become very popular over the last few years. More and more people are realizing that the internet has eliminated the need for going to a physical location to learn certain skills.
Online classes are great because you get to work 1-on-1 with someone who will give you their undivided attention and teach you only what YOU need to know. The fact that you’re the only student in the class means the class can be prepared to meet your specific needs as opposed to the general needs of students at your level.
You also get to express yourself in a more intimate, less intimidating environment. Many of us are introverted and don’t like speaking up in group discussions, and others are just afraid of sounding silly in front of other people.
Regardless of what the reason may be, many people love the idea of private classes because you get that special attention from a dedicated teacher, and you’re free to express yourself without worrying about how you sound.
Spoken English is learned through conversation, and the best private English classes are the ones that get you out of the classroom and into a conversation with a real person.
The problem that some English learners have with private English classes is the price. It just so happens that countries like the U.S. and England have relatively strong currencies. I’m not sure about our neighbors to the North (Canada) or the folks down under (Australia and New Zealand), but I imagine they're on par with us as well. So when you want to take classes with a teacher from these countries, you might find that the currency exchange rates can really limit your options.
Private English classes are an investment.
What is an investment?
Google’s dictionary defines the word ‘investment’ as: an act of devoting time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result.
Another way of saying the same thing is: putting in the work now, knowing that if you see a reward, it won’t be until much later.
And the challenge with this investment is that you don’t just need to invest effort and energy (even though those are the most important factors), you have to invest a sizable amount of money because it’s not like you can just take classes for 3 months and become proficient in this language.
So for some people, the amount of money they would have to invest in this option makes it inaccessible to them.
But fear not, my friends. Thanks to the internet, lots of dedicated software developers, and some ambitious entrepreneurs, there are now plenty of other options for learning any widely-spoken language on the internet.
Learning English in an online community is a relatively new idea for most people.
Thanks to apps like Discord, it’s easier than ever for people to connect via text, voice, and video from anywhere in the world. So instead of sitting in a classroom and following a teacher’s instruction, you can just get on the Discord server and speak with your teacher and other learners. It’s like the new and improved version of group classes.
Your teacher will host group discussions 2 or 3 times a week so everyone can practice and get their mistakes corrected in real time. And when you’re not involved in a discussion with your teacher, you’re free to practice and learn with other students.
The idea of learning and growing with other English learners sounds counterintuitive to people who’ve spent their lives being instructed by a teacher.
They say things like, “If you want to learn real English, you’ve gotta move to the country and speak with natives every day.” — “If you want to learn real English, you’ve got to take classes or buy a course made by a native teacher.” — “Non-native speakers don’t know when I’m saying something incorrect, so I can’t improve with them.”
Although these opinions are valid, I’d have to say I disagree with them. Of course, learning from natives is the most natural and effective way. But everyone is a teacher, because everyone knows something you don’t. And not only that, but Discord is not just an online chatroom for communities, it also acts as an online forum. That means even when you’re practicing with other students and your teacher isn’t present, you can simply create a post explaining your doubts, and your teacher will answer your question at their earliest convenience. Or even better, another member of the community might have the answer you’re looking for.
Learning a language is a real challenge, but when you do it with a community, you can learn from the experiences of people who have been in the same position as you. You can hold each other accountable, keep each other motivated, and share your progress with each other.
The cool thing about communities is that they also tend to be diverse. When you interact with people from all walks of life, you learn more than just language. You share culture, philosophy, ideas, and information. English becomes less of a goal to be reached, and more of a tool to be used for connecting with other people.
The entire world is learning and speaking English, so having the experience of communicating with a diverse crowd is a huge advantage in today’s global economy as well.
However, some people struggle with the idea of learning in an online community because it requires you to take responsibility for your education.
There is no school or teacher creating a study routine for you. No one is reminding you to practice this skill daily. You have to take it upon yourself to show up every day and interact with your community. You constantly have to be consuming useful content in English, taking notes on things you don’t understand, asking other community members for clarification, starting conversations about interesting topics, and trying to improve your communication skills.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of English learners who hesitate when considering this option because they prefer a fixed path to follow, a teacher to hold them accountable, and a guaranteed result at the end of a predetermined process.
But I can tell you now, online communities are the future of practical and effective language education for intermediate and advanced learners.
- You can access them from anywhere in the world.
- They’re much more affordable than traditional schools and online classes.
- You get to connect with natives and non-natives alike, making for a richer learning experience.
- You can stay online and interact with people every day for as long as you want.
- You get to learn in the most natural way, just talking about life with your friends.
For those who are truly motivated to learn, interested in connecting with like-minded individuals, and consistent in their practice, an online community is the most practical way to go from a lower-intermediate to advanced speaker in a natural and cost-effective way.
But maybe this option doesn’t tickle your fancy, so let’s talk about a few more…
Online courses are a good tool for learning about the fundamental concepts of a specific subject.
They’re great for giving you practical yet detailed examples of how something works. Some courses might even encourage you to accomplish tasks on your own using the knowledge you’ve gained from the course.
It’s the ultimate tool for learning specific skills at your own pace.
For example, communicating effectively in English is a skill. However, there are a number of particular skills that fall under the umbrella of this more general skill.
Like making small talk. Some people can talk about technical things very well, but they don’t know how to start and maintain casual conversations with strangers. So if you already know how to speak English but want to get better at making small talk, you might take a course on making effective small talk.
This course wouldn’t focus on things like phrasal verbs and prepositions or advanced technical vocabulary. It would teach you more about the art of communication and the things that compel us to listen and speak to other people.
That’s a specific skill that could be taught effectively through a course. And obviously it would be better if you had some life practice with an instructor, but the point is that the course could teach you the fundamental concepts so that you could then go practice in the real world.
I tend to see people hesitate when considering this option because there are a lot of snake oil salesmen out there who promise things they don’t actually deliver.
There are lots of courses that are only designed to take your money, not teach you anything useful. So a lot of English learners hesitate out of fear of wasting their time and hard-earned money. They also know that an online course can be extremely helpful, but in the end, it could never replace real human interaction.
The only English courses that are truly useful for intermediate and advanced learners are ones that help them improve specific more advanced skills, like the art of communication as I mentioned earlier, or how to use podcasts to improve your English.
When it comes to apps made for language learning, there are 2 main categories.
1. language learning apps
- Elsa Speak
These apps have set out to gamify the language learning process.
With short videos, pronunciation drills, and spaced repetition, you can learn basic grammar structure, pronunciation patterns, and vocabulary and the whole time, it feels like you’re playing a video game.
But these apps are lacking in the interaction part of the learning process. No matter how interactive the app is, it can’t replace speaking with a human being… at least not yet.
2. language exchange apps
These apps are good for finding people who speak English and want to learn your native language. You can simply create a free account, find a partner, and start talking immediately.
However, in my experience, it can be pretty challenging to find a quality language exchange partner on these apps. But once you find one, you will be on the fast track to proficiency in English.
Alright my friend, there you have it.
Now you know about all of the options you have for learning English as a foreign language. So the only thing left to do is decide which one is best for you and get started as soon as possible.
And the next time you hear someone asking how they should learn English, kindly send them this episode and tell them to listen until the end because the most important thing that all of you need to hear is this…
No matter which method, app, school, community, or teacher you choose, there’s one thing that will never change…
If you wanna be proficient in English, you’ve got to read texts in English every day.
You’ve got to listen to people speak about a wide variety of subjects in English every day.
You’ve got to write text messages, emails, and journal entries in English every day.
And most importantly, you’ve got to speak English, with yourself or another human being every single day.