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  • Hi, I'm Oli.

  • Welcome to Oxford Online English!

  • Many English learners have similar problems, and say the same things: “I've been studying

  • for years, but I still can't speak fluently!”

  • How can I remember vocabulary?”

  • How do I stop translating in my head?”

  • In this video, we'll talk about what it means to learn English, why so many learners

  • have these problems, and what you can do to learn more effectively.

  • First, have you seen our website?

  • Go check it out!

  • Oxford Online English dot com.

  • You can find videos, listening lessons, quizzes and professional teachers who you can study

  • with if you need classes.

  • Also, one more thing.

  • Don't forget to turn on the captions if you need them!

  • All our videos have captions in English, some have captions in other languages too.

  • Click the 'CC' button in the bottom right to turn on captions now.

  • Let's start with a question: what does it mean to learn something?

  • No, really, think about it.

  • When you say, “I learned this,” what do you mean?

  • Actually, it can mean different things.

  • All learning depends on three things: theory, memory and practice.

  • You need to understand ideas and conceptstheory.

  • You need to remember ideas and how to do thingsmemory.

  • And, you need to use things in real lifepractice.

  • When you learn something, you need a balance between these three things, and you need the

  • right balance.

  • If you don't get the balance right, you'll find it difficult to learn.

  • You'll waste time and energy, and you'll probably get worse results than you could have.

  • Let's talk about this balance in more detail.

  • When you learn different things, you need different amounts of theory, memorisation,

  • and practice.

  • For example, think about learning to ride a bike.

  • Do you need theory, or memorisation?

  • Not really!

  • No one learns to ride a bike by reading books.

  • You get on a bike, and you try.

  • You fall off; you try again.

  • It's almost 100 per cent practice.

  • Let's take a very different example: aeronautical engineering, meaning designing aeroplanes

  • and rockets.

  • OK, I'll be honest: I don't know, because I'm not an aeronautical engineer, but I'm

  • guessing that it's a lot of theory and memorisation, and less practice, because when you're designing

  • a plane or a rocket, you should get it right first time.

  • So, what's the point?

  • When you learn different things, you need a different balance of these three areastheory,

  • memorisation and practice.

  • What about learning English?

  • Here's my suggestion.

  • It's not meant to be something precise.

  • This isn't statistics.

  • What does this mean for you?

  • Many English learners have problems because they get this balance wrong, and they get

  • it wrong in similar ways.

  • What are the biggest problems English learners have here?

  • One: they focus too much on theory.

  • Two: they try to use theory and memorisation to replace practice.

  • Three: they leave memorisation to luck.

  • And Four: they don't practice enough, or effectively.

  • These mistakes lead to all the common English-learner complaints: “I've been studying for years

  • but I can't speak fluently!”, “I learn vocabulary, but I can't remember it!”,

  • and so on.

  • Let's see what you can do about these problems, and how you can make your English learning

  • more effective.

  • In this section, we're going to talk about the first two problems: focusing too much

  • on theory, and using theory and memorisation to replace practice.

  • Actually, this isn't English learners' fault.

  • Many people learn Englishand other languagesin a theory-heavy way at school or university.

  • Then, they think this is what language learning means: sitting in a classroom, doing grammar

  • exercises, and so on.

  • Theory is part of English learning.

  • Going to a language class might be useful.

  • Doing grammar exercises can be helpful in the right situation.

  • But, here's the key point: practice comes first.

  • Practice should come before theory.

  • Using a language is a practical skill.

  • It's more like riding a bike than designing an airplane or a rocket.

  • You can't replace practice by studying theory.

  • You can't learn to speak by doing exercises from a book.

  • You can't learn to write essays by reading other people's essays.

  • Here's a question: do you have problems speaking fluently, because you're translating

  • whole sentences in your head?

  • Yes?

  • If you do, that's a sign that you've studied English in a way which depends too much on

  • theory and not enough on practice.

  • If you do this, you end up trying to 'calculate' sentences in your head.

  • That's really hard!

  • It's like doing complex maths at high speed.

  • Of course you can't speak fluently if you're doing this.

  • Again, theory is not useless! Studying theory is not useless.

  • But, you have to put practice first.

  • If you want to learn to speak, you have to speak.

  • If you want to learn to write, you have to write.

  • Theoretical study should support your practice.

  • What does that mean?

  • Let's take something which for many people is the biggest symbol of boring English lessonsgrammar

  • exercises.

  • Grammar exercises can be extremely useful!

  • But, you should only do them only when you really need them.

  • For example, imagine you're speaking English regularly, but you're not good at using

  • the present perfect.

  • You know something about it, and you hear other people use it, and you know that you

  • can't use it well when you speak.

  • That's the right moment to take your grammar book and read about the present perfect and

  • do some exercises.

  • More generally, you should only study theorylike grammar rules or vocabulary exerciseswhen

  • you already know what you need.

  • Don't take your grammar book, or your vocabulary book, and start at unit one and say, “I'm

  • going to study this whole book!”

  • Have you ever done that?

  • I have.

  • It doesn't work.

  • You won't finish the book.

  • You probably won't even finish the first three units.

  • It's boring and it doesn't help you.

  • Get a good grammar book.

  • Get a good vocabulary book.

  • Get books on writing, or IELTS, or whatever you need.

  • Then, take what you need when you need it.

  • If you don't know what something is, then you don't need it yet.

  • If you aren't sure whether you need something or not, then you don't need it yet.

  • By the way, I'm not making this stuff up.

  • It comes directly from my own language-learning experiences.

  • As you might know, I live in Greece.

  • My Greek is not that good.

  • [speak some Greek] I haven't really studied formally.

  • At one point, I realised that I didn't know how to form the past tense.

  • I knew *some* past verbs, but I couldn't make past forms which I hadn't seen before.

  • Obviously, using past forms is very helpful.

  • In any conversation, you'll probably need a past verb at some point.

  • So, I found some grammar notes, did some exercises, and I learned how to make past forms.

  • It wasn't boring or difficult, because I felt I needed it.

  • And, it helped me immediately, so I remembered most of what I studied.

  • Here's a summary: put practice first.

  • When you feel you need something theoretical, like a grammar point or vocabulary on a certain

  • topic, then go and study it.

  • You need to feel that you need it, because otherwise it probably won't stay in your

  • head.

  • The same is true with memorising things.

  • There's no point memorising something unless you know you need it.

  • Don't learn a big list of vocabulary which you'll probably never use.

  • Go out and practise, talk to people, write something, find out what you can't say and

  • which ideas you can't express, and then learn those words.

  • Let's move on and talk more about memorisation.

  • Remember the problem that we said many English learners have with memorisation?

  • Too many English learners leave memorisation to luck.

  • Memorisation isn't enough by itself to learn a language.

  • But, it is an important point.

  • For example, take a topic which many English learners find difficult: preposition use.

  • Should I use 'at' or 'on'?

  • What's the difference between 'to' and 'for'?

  • Why do I need to use 'on' here?

  • Often, leaners approach this like other grammar topics, where you start by learning rules.

  • But, there aren't really rules, or at least, not so many useful ones.

  • Learning to use prepositions is more about memorising lots and lots and lots of information.

  • You have to memorise specific word combinations and phrases.

  • Why do you say 'it depends on' and not 'it depends of'?

  • There's no good reason.

  • You just need to remember: 'depend' plus 'on'.

  • Many other topics are like this.

  • They depend more on memory than theory.

  • If you can't remember the information, then you can't use the language correctly.

  • At this point, you'll start thinking in your language.

  • Then you're translating, which means you're calculating sentences again, which

  • doesn't give you good results.

  • So, memorisation is necessary.

  • Here's another point about memorisation: it's measurable.

  • A question: imagine you try to learn ten new words.

  • How many will you remember next week?

  • How many will you remember next month?

  • How many will you remember in a year?

  • What do you think?

  • Say a number.

  • When I ask most students these questions, they almost all say that they'll remember

  • zero words in a year.

  • If that's true for you, then why learn these new words?

  • There's no point learning something if you're just going to forget it again.

  • Also, that's not really learning!

  • So, what's the solution?

  • The first part you already know: put practice first.

  • You won't remember things if you're not using them.

  • Practice needs to come first.

  • Don't try to memorise things you don't need.

  • Just like you shouldn't study theory unless you need it right now.

  • Secondly: make a system for memorisation.

  • If you've watched our other videos, you might already know what I'm going to

  • talk about.

  • Is he going to tell us to use Anki again?”

  • Yes, yes I am.

  • If you don't know, Anki is a very powerful digital flashcard app.

  • It lets you practice with questions and answers on your laptop or phone or tablet, and it's

  • designed to help you memorise large amounts of information.

  • I'm not getting paid by Anki or anything like that.

  • I'm telling you this because I know it works from my experience.

  • I'll tell you: I lived in China and I studied Chinese, including writing.

  • Learning to write in Chinese involves a huge amount of memorisation.

  • To write at a basic level, you need to know around one to two thousand characters.

  • I spent three years in China, and at the end I took a C1-level exam, which is equivalent

  • to around band 7 or 7.5 in IELTS.

  • That meant I had to write essays and other things in Chinese.

  • So, I went from basically zero to C1 level in three years, and Anki helped a lot.

  • You don't have to use Anki.

  • There are other flashcard apps.

  • You don't have to use a flashcard app.

  • There are other ways to memorise things.

  • But, you should have a system, and you should ask yourself how well that system works.

  • Think about the question you saw before: if you try to memorise ten things today, how

  • many will you remember in a year?

  • It won't be ten.

  • Nothing's perfect!

  • And, that's fine.

  • But, it shouldn't be zero either.

  • Whatever you do to memorise things, it should work.

  • The information should stay in your head.

  • If it doesn't work, then try something different!

  • Or, don't do it at all!

  • There's no point in memorising something if you're going to forget it again.

  • Spend your time on something better.

  • Don't leave memorisation to luck.

  • You don't have to!

  • There are tools you can use.

  • Also, even if you're lazy, you should do this.

  • In fact, especially if you're lazy, you should do this.

  • Why?

  • Because being systematic about memorisation will save you so much time, effort and stress

  • in the long term.

  • Many English learners get demotivated because they go in circles, studying the same things

  • over and over and over again; learning and forgetting and learning and forgetting and

  • learning and forgetting

  • Everyone's motivation is limited.

  • If this is you, you'll give up eventually.

  • You'll waste a lot of time and money and energy.

  • So, be systematic about memorisation.

  • Measure your results!

  • Be a scientist.

  • Save your time, save your money, and save your energy.

  • But, remember: memorisation isn't everything.

  • The most important thing is practice.

  • Let's talk about that!

  • You know this already: practice is the most important part of learning English.

  • Here are some questions many English learners have about practicing: