A2 Basic UK 317 Folder Collection
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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

understood… That 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

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

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

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

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 people—full-grown,

successful adults—really caring about whether
they get a question right or wrong in class.

None of this matters by itself. All of this—questions
in class, exercises in your textbook, tests

and exams, English courses, certificates—they'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

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

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 called “River 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

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

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 are… None 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
is “Not 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

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

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 excited—it's really boring.
YouTube and the Internet are full of people
saying they have “the secret to learning

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

Normally, the secret is “buy my book – 99

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

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!
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4 Tips to Help You Learn English - How to Learn English

317 Folder Collection
Jenn published on February 1, 2018
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