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Memorizing and understanding

Learning a language is primarily about remembering lots of different words and phrases in that language. But as I pointed out in an earlier blog post, the word "learn" has more than one meaning. There's learning how a bike works, and then there is learning to ride a bike. The first kind of learning is storing ideas, and the second kind is becoming good at a process.

So here's how the kinds of learning match up with the information I'm giving you on each phrase:

  • I give you a short phrase and a situation so that you can memorize it. Practice saying this phrase. Repeat it over and over until you can say the whole thing to yourself. Your mind will become accustomed to saying things this way. This is the second kind of learning, like riding a bike.
  • I then give you more information about the...

4 common mistakes English learners make

In my last post, I pointed out that the kind of mistakes that you read about on the Internet are mistakes that English speakers make, not ones that English learners should watch out for. So the obvious question is: what should English learners look out for?

Before I present my list, I should warn you that these come from my experiences working with mostly Japanese speakers, so the mistakes you see here may or may not be a problem for people whose native language is closer to English. 

  1. many

    English learners often use "many" in sentences where it's not natural like this:
    "These days I have many days off"

    It is much more natural to use "a lot of" in positive sentences:
    "I've had a lot of days off lately."

    "Many" is fine to use in negative sentences:
    "I haven't had many days off lately."


Native speakers' mistakes ≠ learners' mistakes

I sometimes browse through Twitter looking at things with the #English hash tag to re-tweet out to my followers. Today I came across this one:

I clicked on the link, and found pretty much what I expected to find: a list of mistakes that English speakers make in written English. These are precisely the kind of points I used to teach to my American high school students.

But these are NOT the mistakes that English learners need to focus on.

The lists of English mistakes you read about in these lists come from writing and grammar teachers' frustrations with the writing of native students. Native students already know a language that they call "English". But their teachers have this other language that's also called "English" but is really a totally different form of the language. It's the...

Finding videos with captions for listening practice

A question on an English language forum got me thinking about ways to improve listening practice.  One of the best ways to improve is to watch videos or listen to audio that you also have the text available for.  Here are a few ideas for where to find them:

  • YouTube - A couple months ago, Google announced that they'd started turning on automatic captions for YouTube videos. Of course, that means that the captions are going to be done by machine, and therefore won't be perfect. But it's still better than nothing. Most videos still don't have captions, but you search for only videos with captions (see below). 
  • - This is a specific show that I watch and listen to. The host, Andrew Warner, interviews successful entrepreneurs, mostly from the online...

How to think in English: put in the time!

A user on the forum posted a question that got me worked up to respond:

How to thinking in english....???

When I practise to speak english. I always repare a sentence with a native language then I translate it to english to speak.

I knew it wrong for speaking english. But how to thinking in english. Plz give me advice. Thanks in advance

My response:

Here's my opinion, based on just the little bit of writing that I saw in your question. I don't think that you should expect yourself to be thinking in English yet.  I think that you will need to spend more time studying the language.  How much more time?  Probably another 500 hours.  That includes the time that you spend watching English movies, studying vocabulary, practicing writing to people, and...

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