So many people come to our English training organisation complaining they’ve been learning English for years with xyz school but still struggle to make conversation in English.
I’ve identified 4 main reasons why traditional private language school classes frequently fail to help people with their spoken English. For each reason below I’ll provide a solution designed to super-charge your learning and take your English to the next level.
1. Classes are too general and /or too big
Traditional English classes are generally organised along financial lines so often you can expect large classes with various levels of ability, even if they are advertised as ‘intermediate’ level.
If English is a hobby or you have no need to improve quickly, large generalised classes are fine. If your classes are grouped according to a specific need, with an exam focus for example, a traditional class can still work.
But if you need to see specific improvement in your spoken English quickly, this large generalised class is a big mistake. Yes, it might be a cheaper way to learn – but you will spend more time and money in the long run using material that is irrelevant, listening to mistakes from other foreign learners and very little time actively speaking the English you need to practice and improve.
Wouldn’t you rather be spending your time and money on something else?
Write down your reasons for learning. Set yourself realistic ‘functional’ goals and be as specific as possible: e.g ‘I want to speak English more confidently to clients on the telephone’. Present this to your English school if you are already attending classes. Can they help you with this by arranging 1-1 or small classes with a similar focus? If not, it’s time to find another teacher/school who guarantees to help with your specific needs. The key is to learn 1-1 or in very small groups to maximise practice time and ensure classes are 100% focussed on your needs.
2. Teachers teach you what they think you should know, rather than what you need to know.
Teachers are taught that a good lesson has a balance of reading, writing, speaking and listening throughout. This is fine and makes sense for many students – unless your aim is to improve your spoken English.
To be of benefit to you, everything should serve only to promote your spoken skills. This could in fact mean reading a passage or making notes, but only to progress your aim; to speak English better.
Insist on a spoken focus. If you are asked to read/write long passages consistently, ask how this is helping your spoken progress. If you are not satisfied, it’s time to find another teacher or school. In addition to your goals (in 1 above) explain to your new teacher that your lesson focus should be on speaking English.
3. English material is not specific to your needs
While useful, many teachers rely on the course book too much or print out a ready-to-go lesson. What steps has the teacher taken to ensure the class a) meets your needs, b )is interesting and relevant to you?
A good teacher will take a long time early in your classes to conduct a thorough ‘needs analysis’ which is an analysis of your weaknesses, goals and functional needs in English. This helps the teacher to understand why you are learning and then prepare the right lessons.
Ask a new teacher if they will be conducting a detailed needs analysis with you either before or during your first lesson. If they look blank or unsure, time to find another teacher. If you are already having lessons, are lessons ‘tight’ and relevant? If not, ask for a needs-analysis lesson in order to reinforce your aims and get your learning back on track.
4. Poor or inexperienced teachers talk too much
Next time you are in class make a note of how much time approximately you are speaking compared to the time your teacher is speaking. In general, you should be speaking 2/3 of the time. If your teacher is talking too much, you are not practising your English enough. Even if you are having 1-1 lessons, perhaps your teacher has become too chatty. Good teachers prepare plenty of practice time in the lesson.
Make a note of how much time you are speaking over a few lessons. Ask for more speaking practice if it is not enough. Consider an alternative method of learning. Learning over the phone/Skype means every second is focussed on speaking and listening. Since there are no ‘body language’ cues you will quickly learn to be more accurate and fluent in English in order to make yourself understood. It is excellent, focussed language training.
The solution to poor quality, large classes is to know your English goals and find a small English group or 1-1 class which guarantees to meet them. Consider other ways of learning such as Skype or phone learning to really focus on your oral English skills.
Don’t waste your valuable money or time on generalised teaching. Large classes of generalised teaching only means slow progress for you and you won’t meet your specific spoken English goals.
Take ownership of your learning and regularly check if you are meeting your real-life speaking goals! These are the best ways to super-charge your learning and take your English to the next level.