Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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 concepts—theory. You need to remember ideas and how to do things—memory. And, you need to use things in real life—practice. 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 areas—theory, 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 English—and other languages—in 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 lessons—grammar 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 theory—like grammar rules or vocabulary exercises—when 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?