Losing weight, learning English and exercising are among the well-intentioned resolutions with which we usually welcome the new year. And yet only 8% of people will achieve their goals, according to a 2018 study by the University of Scranton (Pennsylvania, USA). The data continue to place Spain in an uncomfortable position in terms of the English level of its citizens: it occupies the 34th position globally (out of 100 participating countries), and only 26th (out of 34) in Europe, according to the EF EPI 2020 Report, but with reason to be optimistic, since the improvement is slow but constant. Whether it is to find a better job, promote the one we have, get a higher salary or access job opportunities abroad, having an acceptable level of English is already an essential condition.
Fortunately, the methodology has changed a lot over the years, and it no longer focuses simply on the study of grammar and vocabulary, but prioritizes communication and use of the language in a real context. The pandemic and teleworking have also accelerated the use of digital tools and resources, which are available to everyone: “The use of technology has democratized access to language learning, since people of any age and with any budget they can learn it thanks to the use of the Internet ”, says Ana Arángurez, marketing director of the tutorials on-line Italki. The key question is: How do you stay committed so you don’t end up giving up the first drawback?
Motivation and time management, keys
According to experts, neither the pandemic nor the increase in telework should be obstacles to learning a language. In fact, “it has served to make us more aware of the time we spend working and to find a way to better manage it. Although, due to the distancing, it is difficult, we can decide to dedicate ourselves to one thing and reserve time for it in a way that, in other circumstances, would not have been possible, ”argues David Bradshaw, Head of Assessment Services at Cambridge Assessment English. In other words: make it a priority. “The first thing is time: you have to find a space for English, which will be more effective if it is small but frequent. It is useless to dedicate three hours one weekend a month, because we will not achieve anything; but yes with 20 or 30 minutes a day ”.
The second thing is to mark yourself concrete and realistic objectives. “Rather than aiming to learn English, which is a very poorly defined concept, it should be expressed in terms of“ getting a degree ”,“ reaching a level X ”or“ presenting my doctoral thesis in English ”, to give several examples. The more specific the objective, the better the progress will be perceived, and the planning will be easier ”, explains Montse Sàbat, head of studies at the Official Language School of Barcelona-Drassanes. For Bradshaw, unrealistic expectations are also a problem: “You can’t expect to start studying in January and in March read War and peace in English, or watch a whole Tarantino movie without subtitles (…). You have to set progressive goals because, if not, the student may lose motivation, believing that he is not progressing ”.
“Many students aspire, in a more or less conscious way, to one day speak English like a native. But that goal, in addition to being practically impossible, is of little value. We can get to speak it very well, and to write it with confidence, precision and fluency, but you can’t become a native … you don’t need to “, adds Sàbat. For this language teacher, it is also important to have references that remind us of what can be achieved with a good study program: “The European Parliament is full of them, as well as any international business convention or the many international forums of all countries. fields, where English is used exclusively even though there are no native speakers present ”. One fact supports it: most communications in English today already take place between speakers whose mother tongue is not English.
For the experts of ABA EnglishAnother factor that influences our chances of success is sharing efforts: if you meet another person in the same situation, join them and together you can correct, motivate and support each other during the learning process. It is important to be clear that constant effort will pay off, but also that it is not advisable to always focus on the final result to maintain motivation. An investigation carried out by the Queen Mary University of London He found that the key to reaching a goal is to focus more on the effort required than the reward, so that the journey is not tedious and causes us to give up.
And one last point: it is convenient to be prepared for any setback, because they will arise. What if, for example, we have a very heavy work week? “An alternative is to integrate English into our daily routine, so that, if one day we cannot follow our plan, we continue to have contact with the language by turning our mobile phone to English, watching movies in their original version, listening to music or reading the news. in this language, for example. With this we will be stronger to meet once and for all the goal of learning English in 2021 “, explains Natalia Casal, linguistic specialist at ABA English, a start-up Spanish with 30 million students in more than 170 countries.
Can a class be effective on-line?
The online training sector, which was already growing before the pandemic, has received a decisive boost over the past year, mainly due to the social distancing imposed by the coronavirus health emergency, and the way in classes were held all over the world. “60% of the students believe that learning on-line helps them develop a large amount of social skills, and 98% of educators think that interactive video will be essential in the future, ”says Aránguren, who also recalls that (according to EdTechReview), the use of artificial intelligence in education can grow up to 48% in the next two years.
An online class, they affirm from Italki, has numerous advantages, such as greater comfort and ease of access, reduced costs, greater training possibilities, more autonomy, high interaction and the possibility of personalizing instruction according to the level and interests of each student. But what must a virtual class have to be as effective as a face-to-face one?
“Interaction should prevail, and not just between teacher and student. You have to make it easier for students to get into the break out rooms of Zoom or Teams, that they talk to each other and that you as a teacher can listen to them, ”says Bradshaw. “But you also have to give them tools or things that they can look at offline and bring facts, such as a reading in PDF so they can read before, at their own pace, and with some questions. Because if I project it on a screen, everyone has to read at the same rate, and some can get lost ”. Differentiation, he says, is another aspect that is enhanced by distance learning, by allowing (even within a digital classroom with more students) to share content and specific help with anyone who needs it, without others having why be aware of it.
Digital tools for everyone
Whether or not there is social distancing (or a new forced confinement due to circumstances), the truth is that the Internet offers us a wide variety of tools and resources that, in many cases, allow us to practice the four skills (listening, writing, reading and speaking) for free. It is the case of institutions like the British Council, for example, or the University of Cambridge. For its part, Cambridge Assessment English, the non-profit foundation of this university, has made numerous tools available to students through the page Supporting Every Learner and from applications like Write & Improve (a tool that, in a matter of seconds, evaluates the spelling, vocabulary, grammar and style of a written piece), Exam Lift (designed for levels A2 Key for Schools and B1 Preliminary for Schools), the mobile app Quiz Your English or Speak & Improve (to improve oral expression; currently under development).
They are, in short, tips, guidelines, tools and resources available to everyone so that this year, once and for all, we are not part of that 92% who renounce the everlasting New Year’s resolutions. It always requires effort, perseverance and dedication, but it is possible as long as we remember a fundamental maxim: magic, quick and effective solutions do not exist. “You need to continue, yes or yes. You are not going to learn a language in three weeks, in a month or in a year. I’m still learning Spanish, and I came here 30 years ago, ”admits Bradshaw.
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