Learning English - Expectations, time and effort

Dernière mise à jour : 26 sept. 2020

When I first meet a new client to discuss their language ‘wants and needs’ in most cases clients are excited, motivated and we are meeting because ‘they want to learn English.

It is not like school where attending is compulsory, it has been their decision to start lessons. They have objectives, want to develop their proficiency level, and if they are employed can often get financial help that they can use for lessons in the form of the CPF (Compte Personnel de Formation) a ‘personal training account which was created in order to provide training opportunities throughout an employee’s professional life in France, encouraging everyone to undertake training or study throughout their working life until retirement age.

As a language coach, my first meeting with a new client gives me the opportunity to listen. To get an understanding of their past English experiences and current level. To ask why they want to have English lessons and then to plan the way forward.

Whether it is face to face or online, I observe and ask questions: Are they relaxed? Are they able to express themselves clearly? What ‘English’ mistakes are they making? When they speak is it in English or French or a mixture of the two? How easily can they find the vocabulary they want to use and if they do not understand, do they have the confidence to ask me to repeat what I have said.

I watch their body language. Are they engaged? Do we have eye contact? Are they smiling or do they frown when I ask questions? Are they physically relaxed or defensive? During the very short amount of time I have, I use my experience to read their body lanuage and responses to get a ‘feeling’ of what they do and do not know.

For some clients, its easy as they are beginners or at a lower level, but for more advanced clients I find that the mistakes they make are often linked to learnt behaviours. They generally speak with confidence but are rarely corrected and so they continue to do what they have always done because they do not know otherwise. Habits must be identified and changed, and this can be just as challenging as teaching a beginner.

Discussing the lesson plan, the way forward is exciting. “This is the path we will take to achieve your goals”. They are motivated and keen to start.

So, let us discuss time:

“When would you like to start? How many lessons a week would you like and how much time do you have available each session”?
“I would like between 1 – 2 lessons a week, preferably during a lunch hour, so between 1h00 hour and 1h30 minutes, reducing any impact on my work” is a standard response.
“How much time can you spend to self-study”?
“Hmmm, Self-study isn’t going to be easy”, followed by a variety of reasons, “I have to balance family obligations, I hadn’t really thought about that”. “It’s not easy for me to concentrate at home” to name a few.

So, how long does it take to learn English?

If you search the web you will see many different reports and some with great tips on what you can do to ‘speed up the process’, however, the reality is on average learners need between 100 - 150 hours of lessons per proficiency level of which there are 6 to progress.

Not surprisingly, the total number of hours clients use on lessons often depends on CPF finance. In 2020 if an employee works at least half of the legal or contractual working time for the whole year, the employer credits the CPF with up to €500 per year (subject to a maximum of €5,000) at the end of the year.

Once converted into hours I generally find that unless clients have never used their CPF allowance they have between 30 and 120 hours available to them..

So how can someone increase their chances of learning and therefore progress when they have such a small amount of time for lessons? The only solution is for the clients to manage their expectations and use the time they have effectively. To have a mix of quality tutored lessons and time where they can find ways to immerse themselves in English outside of the lessons.

So here are some questions below that you can ask yourself before you start. Be aware of the facts and be realistic. Think about what is achievable in the time you have and identify the things that you can do which will help you maximise your chances of progressing.

  • Is it your choice to learn English or someone else’s? If it is not yours, how motivated are you to learn and invest your time?

  • Do you know your starting level? Take a level evaluation test.

  • Are your goals realistic?

  • Can you get help with funding / use CPF hours?

  • How easy is it for you to take ‘time out’ to self-study?

  • Where will lessons take place? What distractions are there? (phones, colleagues, family, noise, obligations, routine etc)?

  • How do you like to learn? Can you add creativity to your learning? E.g. making it fun with games, films, books or by joining a language club.

  • Are you able to concentrate for long periods of time or do you need lessons that are ‘little and often’?

  • Can you practice with other English speakers?

Asking yourself these questions will give you the opportunity to take a step back and look at how achievable your goals are from the onset. They may help you to identify changes in your ‘day to day’ routine. You may also find this an opportunity to discover different ways of learning that you will enjoy and have fun with but equally to breakdown your learning journey into manageable segments over time.

As difficult as learning English can be when you are not living in the UK, those that manage expectations and make the effort will without doubt have a higher chance of staying motivated, not feel disappointed at the end of their course and will learn more in the time that they have.

Karen Loizou September 2020

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