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  • Hi, I'm Oli. Welcome to Oxford Online English. In this video I'm going to tell you a little about

  • my language learning experiences and I'm going to share with you some things I wish I'd known

  • before I started studying languages.

  • I really hope you'll find these ideas interesting and useful and you can use them to help you

  • learn English or even maybe another language!

  • First, let me tell you a little about myself and why I do what I do, and why I'm making

  • this video.

  • I was always fascinated by foreign languages. I remember the first time I went to a foreign

  • country. I was nine, and I went to Holland.

  • The thing that I liked best was hearing all of these foreign sounds. I'd never really

  • heard people speaking other languages before.

  • Even then, I thought that speaking another language would be a really cool thing to be

  • able to do.

  • Being able to open your mouth and produce all of these foreign words and actually be

  • understoodThat seemed almost like magic to me as a child!

  • My Mum bought me a 'How to learn Dutch' book. It didn't work! I didn't learn any

  • Dutch.

  • But, I did study French and German at school for many years. They were always my favourite

  • subjects.

  • When I was around 20, I set myself a goal. I would travel the world, and by the time

  • I was 30, I would speak four foreign languages fluently.

  • I don't know why. There wasn't much logic to it. It doesn't seem like the most coherent

  • life plan, even now. But, that's what I'd decided to do, so that's what I did.

  • I lived in Russia, and studied Russian to quite a high level. Then, I moved to China.

  • I studied Chinese, including written Chinese.

  • By the time I was 30, had I reached my goal? Kind of. I could speak Russian, French and

  • Chinese well, and I could still speak some German, though not so well.

  • Close enough—I don't have any regrets.

  • Anyway, I made so many mistakes along the way. I got so many things wrong. I wasted

  • lots of time and energy on things that didn't work.

  • There are so many lessons I had to learn the hard way.

  • So, what were they?

  • I remember my first few Russian lessons. They were bad. I couldn't do anything. I didn't

  • learn anything.

  • Why? Because I had just graduated from university, and in my head, I was still at school.

  • When the teacher asked me a question and I got it right, I thought: “Great! I achieved

  • something!” I thought this even if I just guessed the answer.

  • If I got a question wrong, I thought, “I feel bad!” I felt embarrassed.

  • If we did an exercise or a test, I thought, “If I get a high score, I've succeeded!”

  • Worst of all, I thought that just turning up to class was enough. After all, I wasn't

  • responsible for my learning. The teacher was responsible. That's the teacher's job.

  • I hope, I really hope, that you realise that I'm saying these things because they're

  • totally wrong, not because they're how you should think.

  • Getting a question right or wrong in class means nothing by itself.

  • Getting a high score in a test means nothing by itself.

  • Going to five classes, ten classes, or 500 classes means nothing by itself.

  • There's only one thing that matters: what have you learned?

  • What can you do that you couldn't do before?

  • Teachers can make a big difference, sure. One of the best teachers I've had (Hi Lola!),

  • helped me to change how I think.

  • Instead of feeling embarrassed about making a mistake, I realised that mistakes are a

  • chance to understand something new.

  • Instead of worrying about getting things wrong, I started to experiment and play with language.

  • Instead of seeing tests and exercises as targets for someone else, I saw them as opportunities

  • to express myself and explore my own strengths and weaknesses.

  • I put this at number one because it's the most important thing to learn.

  • It's the biggest mistake I see English learners making. I see adults, many of whom are older

  • than me, very professionally successful, acting like they're still at school, just because

  • they're in a lesson with a teacher.

  • I've seen people copying their homework from the answer key. I see peoplefull-grown,

  • successful adultsreally caring about whether they get a question right or wrong in class.

  • None of this matters by itself. All of thisquestions in class, exercises in your textbook, tests

  • and exams, English courses, certificatesthey're just steps; they're tools.

  • What's your goal? To get a piece of paper that says you speak English, or to actually

  • speak English?

  • If you start at lesson one and finish lesson 100, is that enough? Have you finished?

  • Do you want to get a high score in an English exam, or do you want to speak such good English

  • that you never need to take an English exam?

  • So, get these old ideas from school out of your head. Classes, exercises, tests and certificates

  • All of these things can help you; these things can give you structure and motivation, and

  • that can be important, but they aren't the end goal.

  • These things aren't important in themselves; they're important for what they can help

  • you achieve.

  • Focus on what you can actually do.

  • Because that's all that matters.

  • When I first moved to Russia, I was planning to stay for six months.

  • After six months, I thought my Russian was okay. But it certainly wasn't good enough.

  • I decided to stay longer.

  • I thought that with six months more study, my Russian would be where I wanted it to be.

  • After six months, I thought, “My Russian's alright, but if I just studied for another

  • six months, it would be good.”

  • I studied for another six months.

  • I thought, “Yeah, my Russian's not bad. You know what I need? Six months' more study.

  • It'll be really good with another six months.”

  • There were a few more like this, but you can see where this is going, I think.

  • Even when I left Russia, and I could speak to a high level, I didn't feel completely

  • satisfied.

  • It's not just me.

  • You never feel like you've finished. You always feel like there's more to do, and

  • more to learn.

  • I promise you, this will be the same for you with English. You'll never feel like, “I'm

  • done now.”

  • Often, students ask me things like, “How long will it take to get fluent?” “How

  • long will it take to learn English?”

  • No one wants to hear, “Forever!” It's not a popular answer! But, it's true.

  • Why is this?

  • I think there are two reasons.

  • The first is that there is always more to learn. I'm still learning things about English,

  • by teaching, writing and editing other people's work. I haven't finished learning English,

  • just like you haven't finished learning English, because you never do.

  • What about the second reason?

  • Partly, it's just human nature. We focus on what we can't do, just like we focus

  • on what we don't have.

  • What you don't have is much more interesting than what you already have, right?

  • In the same way, what you can't do seems more important than what you can do.

  • When you learn something new, it's satisfying for a very short time. Then you forget about

  • it. You focus on what you don't know; you focus on what you can't do.

  • This is natural. We all do it. All the time I was studying Russian, I was getting better.

  • I was learning lots of new things.

  • But, it didn't feel that way.

  • I'm sure many of you who've been learning English for a long time can relate to this!

  • You study and study. You learn new things, but you always feel like there's something

  • you can't do.

  • This is how it is. That feeling never totally goes away.

  • So, what can you do about it?

  • Accept it. It's not going to change!

  • Also, remember that how you feel isn't always the best guide to how things really are.

  • Just because you feel you aren't getting better, it doesn't mean you're not getting

  • better. It doesn't mean you aren't learning anything new.

  • It's just how you feel, and how you will feel.

  • It's not a reason to stop or get discouraged. Keep studying; keep working and you will improve,

  • even if it doesn't always feel that way.

  • I don't know exactly when I first got the idea of moving to China.

  • But, I know when I made up my mind: I read a book calledRiver Town.” It's about

  • an American guy who spent two years living in Sichuan, in southern China.

  • He went there to teach English and study Chinese. He lived in a small town where there were

  • two non-Chinese people, including him.

  • I loved the book, and at that moment, I knew: I was going to China.

  • But, I wasn't as brave as him. I couldn't imagine living in a small town with no other

  • English speakers. It sounded lonely.

  • I moved to Shanghai, where there are about half a million foreigners.

  • I could meet people from many different countries, and mostly my social life was English-speaking.

  • I wasn't lazy, though. I studied hard. I really wanted to get better. After three years,

  • my Chinese was quite good.

  • But, it wasn't perfect. There was a lot I couldn't do. There was a lot I didn't

  • know.

  • Why am I telling you this?

  • It's because my Chinese was a reflection of my life: I chose to move to a big, international

  • city, and I chose to hang out in mixed groups where the common language was English.

  • So of course my Chinese wasn't as good as it could have been.

  • I had a couple of friends who did things differently.

  • One guy in particular did almost everything in Chinese. He had Chinese roommates, most

  • of his friends were Chinese, and he worked for a Chinese company.

  • His Chinese was perfect. Not just good, perfect.

  • It wasn't because he studied harder than me (although maybe he did). It was because

  • he lived his life in Chinese and I didn't.

  • I see this a lot with English learners, particularly in English-speaking countries.

  • Many of the students I meet live in the UK, but don't speak much English. They have

  • a community of people who speak their language, and they don't go outside that much.

  • I also see this a lot with people saying, “I want to learn English, but I don't

  • have chances to speak!”

  • To be clear, I know that big life changes, like moving to another country, aren't realistic

  • for everyone. I get that.

  • But here's the thing.

  • You can't separate language learning from the rest of your life.

  • If you go to class twice a week, and don't use English or think about English the rest

  • of the time, your progress will always be limited.

  • Do you want to speak perfect English? Do you want to master the English language? Yes?

  • Then you need to live your whole life in English.

  • That might not be practical, but even so, improving your English (or any language) means

  • changing your life.

  • It might mean moving to another country, working in another company, changing your social circle,

  • or other large changes.

  • And yes, that can be very difficult! It can involve making big sacrifices. I understand

  • that, but that's how it is.

  • Language is a part of your life. The way you live influences what you can learn.

  • How dare you, Oli! I am special!

  • I'm not saying you're not special. I'm not special. No one's special when it comes

  • to learning a language.

  • Learning English, or any language, is very democratic. Everyone's in the same position.

  • It doesn't matter how smart you are, how rich you are, how professionally successful

  • you areNone of that really matters.

  • Let me tell you the last part of my story.

  • Now, I live in Greece. I've been here for around three years.

  • If people ask me if I speak Greek, my answer isNot really.”

  • I can communicate in a basic way, and I understand a lot, but I don't claim to speak it.

  • After three years in Russia, I could speak good Russian. After three years in China,

  • I could speak good Chinese.

  • So, what went wrong? I should speak good Greek by now, right?

  • Remember: I'm not special; none of us are special. I don't speak good Greek because

  • I haven't done enough work.

  • Partly, that's because I'm busier. If I'm honest, I've also been a little lazy

  • sometimes.

  • Okay, at this point, I want to say thanks for listening to me. This is a more personal

  • video, and I appreciate that you're still watching.

  • So, let me finish by giving you the secret to learning a language.

  • That's right: I'll give you the secret to learning English, or any language!

  • Don't get too excitedit's really boring.

  • YouTube and the Internet are full of people saying they havethe secret to learning

  • fluent English,” or “a way to learn English in ten days.”

  • Normally, the secret isbuy my book – 99 dollars!”

  • I don't have a book, because I'm too busy to write one, so I'll just tell you the

  • secret. You can have it for free.

  • It's consistency.

  • I've taught thousands of students at this point in my career, and the picture is very

  • clear.

  • People who study and work consistently, over time, get the best results.

  • It's not necessarily the smartest students who do best.

  • It's not necessarily the natural language learners who do best.

  • It's not necessarily the most enthusiastic learners who do best, because enthusiasm tends

  • to burn out.

  • It's the people who just keep going, who don't give up, who work and work and don't

  • stop, who keep going even when it's hard and boring and they're not enjoying it:

  • they do best. They get what they want.

  • Boring, I know, but it's true.

  • So, thanks again for watching and listening to me!

  • See you next time!

Hi, I'm Oli. Welcome to Oxford Online English. In this video I'm going to tell you a little about

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