So you’ve been studying English for the last 10 years or more, and you still can’t really speak it? Actually, you’re not alone. In fact, of all the people who try to learn English (or any second language) at some point, many will fail. There are several reasons that might be true and in this post I’ll share three big ones. Knowing about these three things will hopefully steer you toward success in learning English.
1. Poor Methodology (a lack of immersion)
The first reason why you are still not good at English is poor methodology. You’re probably suffering from a lack of English immersion. Immersion means surrounding yourself with English as much as you can on a regular basis. This means every day. I talked about this in my previous post about daily study habits. Be honest with yourself – are you surrounding yourself by English? Are you interacting with in English? For how many hours every day? I’m not talking about learning apps like Duolingo or Memrise or Mondly. These are all great for guidance and support, but they are not the main focus of your learning. I am not talking about English language classes or textbooks, either. Some say up to 90 percent or more of your language learning occurs outside the language classroom, when you read, write, listen, and speak English in the real world. This is why language exchange is so helpful. You can communicate with people in the virtual world, where you can also find resources and materials such as online books, websites or videos.
To create your own English language immersion, you need to be bombarded (or attacked) by as much English language input (listening and reading) as possible every day. Output (speaking and writing) might be harder to do based on where you live, and of course it is important, but input, according to linguists like Stephen Krashen, is much more important. Watch as many TV shows, movies, and YouTube videos as you can in English. Read as many novels, magazine or journal articles, blog posts, and comics, as you cam in English. The more you immerse yourself, the better your intuition gets at understanding how English works. As a result, you’ll have a higher chance of developing better English speaking skills.
And it does not matter how smart you are or think you are. I know a lot of very smart people who only speak one language, and I know a lot of normal people who speak many. If you don’t get a lot of immersion on a regular basis, it’s going to be hard to see improvement, especially quick improvement.
2. Lack of Consistency (due to poor habits and/or not following your interests)
The second reason why you still suck at English (or why you are still bad at English) is because you’re not following your interests. I know I said earlier that habits are more important than motivation for learning English, but that does not mean that motivation is not important. When you’re studying something that is a little boring, but that you need to know, perhaps like English grammar, then you need to have good study habits. But if you really want to become good at English, you’re going to have get much more input on your own (or by yourself). So make sure the materials you choose to use are genuinely interesting to you.
For example, my Japanese skills dramatically improved when I read my first book in Japanese. If the topic of the book were not interesting, it would have seemed too difficult, and I would not have been motivated to finish reading it in my own time. But the topic was something I was extremely interested in, and the book did not exist in my native language. Even though the language was too difficult for my level at that time, I was highly motivated because I wanted very much to learn about the content. Let me tell you, I learned a lot of Japanese vocabulary that month. Yes, it took me a month of readying several hours every day, but it was worth it.
Basically, what I’m saying is that English study for you is ideal when it is a means to an end – through English, you learn about something that is more interesting to you than just learning English. Does that make sense? This is why CLIL (or Content and Language Integrated Learning) has become a popular language approach.
When you follow your interests, it’s not so challenging to remain consistent. When you do or learn something that is interesting to you, your brain gets dopamine. Dopamine is the happy hormone. When you do things that make you happy, you want to continue to do those things, right? Conversely, doing something boring or uninteresting is going to tempt you to avoid doing it again. Recently, I improved my Danish pronunciation – yes, pronunciation – by watching a drama in Danish on Netflix called Rita. I started watching it for the Danish input, but I kept watching it for the story. Danish is not the most difficult language for me because I have Norwegian background, but Danish pronounce is challenging for me. However, getting all that daily Danish language input on Netflix (there were 5 seasons) got me used to hearing it, and of course I did my best to repeat what I was hearing. Og nu er jeg bedre til dansk end før (And now I’m better at Danish than before). Not perfect, but better.
Anyway, the point is, you need to study and practice regularly; you need to remain consistent. To be consistent, habits and motivation are important. Start creating habits and use materials and methods that are enjoyable or interesting to you. Remember that you are not the same as me or anyone else. The type of book I read in Japanese or the genre of Danish drama series I watched may not motivate you. Find some content that does.
3. Lack of Confidence
This might not be true for all people, but the last reason you still suck at English could be due to how you feel about yourself. For example, you could be unsuccessful at learning English because you have been listening too much to other people’s lack of belief in you. There are always going to be people in your life you discourage you from trying to reach your language learning goals. They may tell you it’s impossible, you’re crazy to think you can do it, you’re not smart enough, you’re not disciplined enough, or that you shouldn’t waste your time. Or they may discourage you from trying in other ways.
This sabotage is very effective in your early stages of learning English because your confidence might be very fragile or low. These people might even be your friends and family, so their attitude is sadly even more impactful. Why do people sabotage others? Well, there are several reasons, and one strong one is fear. Maybe they fear that your success will make them look bad. Maybe they fear losing your friendship or love? A lot of these fears are subconscious; people don’t realize they have them.
But the important thing to not let negative comments influence you in how you feel about yourself. You can do anything you set your mind to, so if you are worried about your relationship with these people, talk to them. Tell them that learning English is your dream and you are going for it, and you would really appreciate their support. If you don’t get support, you have to decide which is more important to you – your language learning goals or your perhaps toxic relationship.
Another type of sabotage has less to do with other people, and instead comes from inside yourself. It might simply be a lack of belief in yourself. When English language learning gets tough, you have push through. Remember that anything worth doing often is tough. Unfortunately, difficult stages in learning push a lot of people to quit or give up, because when learning English gets difficult, your brain remembers any negative talk or feelings from the past.
A lack of self-confidence can be related to the importance you place on what other people think of you. For example, if fitting in with (or being accepted by) your non-English speaking friends is important to you, and you are afraid about standing out by being better than them in English, then honestly – just give up now. Forget it – You’ll probably never be good at English – at least until you change your thinking!
In English language schools all over the world, it’s not uncommon to see groups of people who speak the same language sticking together and speaking their native language. At school – where ideally they should be communicating almost exclusive (almost only) in English. This is understandable to a certain point. Especially if you’re living away from home, you might want the security and support of people who can understand you well. But at some point, you’re going to have to leave these people and communicate more with other learners of English who don’t speak your language. Or, if you’re studying English in your own country, you’re going to have to insist that your classmates speak English with you both in and outside of class, and even off campus. If they will NOT communicate with you in English, I’m sorry – maybe you need to make new friends.
If you really need to fit in so much, and you also want to improve you English, then making new friends is indeed a good idea. I recommend making friends with a group of people who are better at English than you or who at least have a strong determination to improve their English. In this case, feeling different might be a good thing for your motivation. Encourage yourself to improve by choosing people in your life who are encouraging to you. When you are struggling, this is a time to seek our support from people who are truly supportive. If they’re not around, you have to rely on your inner-strength and self-love as a form of support.
Know that how you feel about yourself is your choice. You can do it.
So there you have it – three reasons why you are still not good at English.
- a lack of immersion (poor methodology)
- poor consistency (due to a lack of habits and/or self-motivation)
- a lack of confidence (or defeatism)
These are tough hurdles (or obstacles) to overcome, especially the last one for some people because it is very psychological. However, my lovelies – please remember that you are a language learning genius by nature. Humans are naturally wired (or naturally designed) to communicate. We are social animals, so learning another language is not rocket science.