We never get tired of people asking us questions. Quite the opposite – one of our major goals here at Aim is to encourage an inquisitive mind. People who ask lots of questions to ensure they always fully understand and are fully informed are the sort of people who will do better academically and in business. And they are the kind of people who are more fun to teach too!
We do hear some of the same questions regularly though. So here are a select few that we’d like to share with all of you (although for some, we don’t have all the answers!):
1.For how long must I take a course in order to be fluent?
One of the most common questions, and one of the most vague answers, I’m afraid. It depends.
It depends on what level you’re at now. For some, many months of courses and practice are needed in order to be able to communicate effectively. For others, ‘brushing up’ or ‘fine tuning’ is all that’s needed.
It depends on how good you are at learning languages. Some people learn languages faster than others; it’s as simple as that. Those who learn quickly are very often those who have a high level of confidence and no fear of using new language as much as possible. Intelligence is a factor too, of course.
It depends on how hard you work. Taking a course is a great idea, but if you don’t practice outside the classroom, progress will be slow. Likewise if you are not active in the classroom (by asking questions, getting involved, having fun) then progress will be limited.
And finally it depends on what your definition of ‘fluent’ is. Absolute perfection – native speaker-level language – is an unrealistic goal for most. Often one must live in an English-speaking country for many years before they’re mistaken as a native speaker. In business, you should aim for an ability to communicate professionally and accurately, and an ability to build quality relationships. Grammatical perfection is less important in this context. For life in general, the ability to confidently communicate in English in a wide variety of everyday situations is usually enough. After a while you’ll be able to describe your way around any language you don’t know, so the person you’re talking to understands your meaning. Remember, communication is the goal, not perfection.
2.What is the best way to learn a language?
You need to get to know your own learning style in order to answer this question, because a learning method that works well for one person may not work well for you. Learning styles have been studied and described in many different ways by different academics, here’s a link to wikipedia on the subject for those of you who are interested.
Fleming, for example, divides learners into three main categories: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Visual learners learn best through visual aids, pictures, diagrams and so forth. Auditory learners learn best through listening (to lectures or discussions, songs or movies). While kinesthetic learners learn best through experiences – moving, touching and doing. Which one are you? Once you know, you can tailor your efforts to learn languages to make them more effective.
The simple answer to this question, and one we’ve mentioned many times before, is hard work and practice. Seek out as many practice opportunities as you can, habitualise the use of the new language in your daily routine, and put in the effort (even when you don’t feel like it). You’ll really be surprised how quickly you can make progress.
3.Am I too old to learn?
I’m not going to say that age doesn’t make a difference. It does. A young child can pick up dozens of new words every day, and in multiple languages. I can’t! However us adults can be more self-motivated, disciplined, ambitious. We enrol ourselves on courses, we make time to do homework, and we are motivated by that job promotion, or that overseas holiday, or that new friend whose Indonesian language is limited.
So while remembering new language might get a bit harder as we get older, many other factors mean that the answer is absolutely not! You are never too old to learn something new.
4. Can I learn English by watching movies and reading books?
To a certain extent, yes. Any practice is worthwhile, and any exposure to the new language (even in songs) is worthwhile. Watching movies and reading books can be especially beneficial if you are an active learner while to do it: try writing down new words you come across, rewinding a tricky bit of pronunciation and imitating, or perhaps even writing a review of the book or movie when you’ve finished. But watching movies or reading books are ‘passive’ activities; you are receiving language, not producing it. To be an effective communicator you also need to work on your ability to produce language yourself; speaking and writing.
These are just a few of the questions we’re often asked at Aim. In coming weeks we’ll perhaps publish a few more. In the meantime, don’t stop asking questions!
“He who is afraid of asking is ashamed of learning” (Danish Proverb).