You've been studying English for years. But when you hear someone speak it doesn't sound like the English you learned. You find it hard to understand, and when you speak, people look confused.
Sadly, this experience is fairly common. It's what happens when you've been taught English the traditional way where your teacher relies heavily on textbooks and classroom drills.
That's why we don't use textbooks in Effortless English. In fact, you have my permission to throw your textbooks away. Go ahead. Pitch them in the trash. As I've said before, textbooks aren't the way to learn a language. With Effortless English, you learn real English, and that is Rule Six.
Textbooks have a number of problems. First, they are grammar-focused. We have already discussed the reasons you should avoid grammar study. Another huge problem is that textbooks mostly teach the formal form of English. This is the form of English you commonly find in writing. Textbooks rely heavily on written dialogues that are completely unnatural.
Perhaps you recognize this one:
“Hello. How are you?”
“I'm fine, and you?”
The textbook may be accompanied by audio, in which actors read this dialogue using strange rhythm and completely unnatural pronunciation.
So what happens in real life? You study this textbook dialogue, and you think you know English. Then you travel to an English speaking country such as the United States. You meet a person at the bus stop and they say, "Hey, what's up?" Of course, they are just greeting you and asking, "How are you?" but they are using the real casual English that is much more common among native speakers.
In fact, as a teacher in San Francisco, I heard this common complaint most often from students. They traveled from many countries to study in America. Many new students thought of themselves as advanced English learners. Many had great test scores.
However, when they tried to communicate with real people, they had tremendous problems. I remember one student named Humberto saying to me, "I can't understand what anyone is saying. I don't understand people at the bus stop. I don't understand the waitresses in restaurants. I thought I was advanced, but I can't understand anyone." Like most students, Humberto had studied formal textbook English but had never learned real conversational English. He did well on tests but could not function in the real world.
Real pronunciation is also much different than what you'll find in textbooks and their audios. This is another source of difficulty for those who learn using traditional methods. Schools typically teach the formal dictionary pronunciation of English words. While the textbook will teach you "How are you?" a real American speaker is likely to say something like, "Howya doin'?" "Howzit goin'?" "Hey, whassup?" or "Nice-ta meetcha."
To really communicate in English, you absolutely must understand this real English. And these are only the simplest examples of greetings. The entire language is full of such examples. No wonder even "advanced" textbook English learners struggle to communicate with real people.
Idioms are another common problem for textbook learners. Spoken American English is full of idioms, yet you'll learn a few of them from textbooks. Recently, I recorded a conversation with my Dad on the topic of business. Later, as I reviewed the recording, I was shocked by just how many idioms we used in that short conversation.
Idioms are phrases that have a meaning different from the individual words in it. They are often based on metaphors or cultural topics and can be quite hard to understand logically. For example, in a business meeting, a colleague might say, "We scored a touchdown on that project." This idiom comes from the sport of American football, and it means to have a big success or victory. You're unlikely to learn this phrase in a textbook, yet it is very commonly used by Americans.
Clearly, textbooks are ineffective learning tools. What tools will you use then? You'll learn the same way native speakers do: by using real authentic materials. Use only real English materials: the sixth rule. What do I mean by real? Well, I'm talking about English materials that are for native speakers or that are very similar to those used by native speakers. They can be books, articles, audiobooks, podcasts, videos, etc.
You can find plenty of real English listening material on the Internet. Podcasts are perfect. I have a Podcast. You can go to https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/effortless-english-podcast/id188333691 and listen to me talking about English, talking about learning, talking about my ideas. It's free. It's easy. You can just listen, listen, and listen – there are a lot of real materials. I'm just talking normally and I'm a real native speaker. I'm not acting and I'm not reading.
And there are a lot of other podcasts out there. You can pick English learning podcasts, or better yet, a podcast on any topic you like. If you like sports, find English podcasts that talk about sports. If you like cars, find ones that talk about cars. If you like to exercise or health, find podcasts about that.
Audiobooks are another great way to practice your listening. An audiobook is just a book that someone's reading and they record it. So instead of reading the book, you listen to the book. The key is to choose audiobooks that were created for native speakers. Also, choose audiobooks that are easy for you. You may need to start with children's storybooks. That's okay. I can guarantee that listening to a children's storybook is more interesting and more useful than some boring textbook.
One of my favorite examples of good authentic materials is a children's book with an audio version. These are useful because you can listen and read along at the same time. You can also easily look up unknown vocabulary in a dictionary. I often have to tell my adult students not to be too proud to get a book for kids. You'll probably find a book by Dr. Seuss is more interesting than a textbook, because it is a real story written for native English speakers.
As you get better, when your English level is higher, you can listen to audiobooks for young adults or for older children. Just keep listening to real English. When something gets too easy, choose something a little more difficult until that gets easy. Eventually, when you are advanced, you can listen to CNN or the BBC, or American movies, British movies, Australian movies, etc. But again, that's at an advanced level. Start with the easy stuff.
By focusing on real English materials, you are immersing yourself in the language used by native speakers. You are not learning a strange special language taught only to students. By listening to real English, you guarantee that you are learning a useful language that is used in the real world. At the same time, because the material you use is authentic, you also learn idioms and culture – which are vital to understanding spoken English.
I have created an audiobook version of this book so you can use this book for English practice. See the back of the book for more details.
Real English materials will even help you improve faster on exams such as the TOEFL. Research by Dr. Ashley Hastings found that students who learned with authentic materials (books, movies, TV shows) improved 35% more than students who studied in a TOEFL preparation course using sample tests.
What about reading? While listening will be your main focus, reading authentic materials is also powerful. With reading, you follow the same principles as you did with authentic listening materials. You read easy English storybooks or easy English novels. You choose books that are pleasurable. Pick something you enjoy, something that's interesting – maybe a romance or maybe an adventure story or any topic or category that fascinates you.
Dr. Krashen calls this "free voluntary reading" and it is the most powerful way to increase your English vocabulary. Reading authentic materials has been shown to increase vocabulary much faster than studying lists of words. As you'll see in a future chapter, this kind of reading is also the best possible activity you can do in order to improve your English writing ability. Research finds that reading and listening for pleasure leads to superior TOEFL performance. I always recommend my students start with children's novels, usually something for elementary or middle school age. For beginners, graded readers can be useful. I also like series of books such as Goosebumps, The Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew. These include a lot of books, more than 30 in some cases. They are easy reading and they will help your writing ability, reading speed, and vocabulary.
As you improve, you'll naturally seek out more difficult books and audios. One strategy is to find an author you like and read every one of his or her books. For example, if you enjoy scary stories you could read every book written by Stephen King. If you enjoy romance, why not read all of Danielle Steele's books? If you can find audiobook versions for these, even better. By the time you finish an entire series of books, you will have improved your real English skills dramatically.
In my Effortless English courses, I often focus on topics such as self-improvement and success. I want members to focus on the topics and real English in my lessons, not on the parts of the language. The more you connect emotionally to a topic in the real world, the easier you will learn English.
In fact, the perfect situation is when you are so interested in the topic that you completely forget you are listening to or reading English. When this happens, language learning happens without any effort at all.
How should you decide what to listen to or read? Often, my students worry that they'll pick something too easy. My recommendation: it's best to pick something you can understand without too much difficulty, but that stretches you a little. Linguists call this "comprehensible input plus one" which they describe as material that is just one level above where you are currently. They believe students learn a second language best when they are in a low-stress situation and are interested in the topic being discussed.
An easy test of difficulty is whether or not you need a dictionary. You should be able to read and listen quickly, with only a few unknown words per page. Because you understand most of the material, you can guess the meaning of those unknown words without interrupting yourself. Just keep going, because you will eventually encounter those same new words again. When you do, you'll make another, even better guess about the meaning. Eventually, you'll learn this new vocabulary simply by enjoying real English without using a dictionary.
When you listen to real English materials, you get the real English that is actually used by Americans, Canadians, Australians, the British, etc. That's how we really speak. By replacing textbooks with these materials, you will be prepared for real-world communication. When someone greets you on the street, you'll understand them. When someone uses a common idiom, you'll understand them. Eventually, you'll completely understand TV shows and movies too.
Rule Six is the key: learn real English.
In San Francisco where I used to live, I met many students with high English test scores and great grades in their English classes. Yet, when they sat in a café, they couldn't understand what people were saying around them. They had absolutely no idea what normal Americans were saying.
They had been trained informal, academic English – with a focus on grammar rules. I think this is totally backward.
The common, casual conversation should be the first thing you learn. The first need, after all, is to communicate with other people. You want to chat with people in a café. You want to make friends and understand what they are saying. You want to talk to your co-workers. You want to understand TV shows and movies.
Common English should be what you learn first... then, and only if you need it, focus on academic English.
To help you, we have a new collection of recorded, real, spontaneous conversations. These are real conversations with friends, family, and business partners. We aren't reading scripts. We aren't actors. You'll learn the real English that we use every day with each other – including slang, idioms, swear words, jokes, cultural references, etc.
You'll hear filler words, too (such as "ah," "um," "you know," "like"), which are a common element of English that is missing from textbooks. You'll hear the natural rhythm of English – the way we go back and forth, the way we use phrases, the ways we interrupt each other.
We have all the conversations transcribed, and include short notes to explain the slang, idioms, etc. that you can't find in a dictionary. We did this because there's a huge need. In fact, it's probably the biggest need our members have.
My friends and I created a course from these conversations, with text and explanations. You can find them at www.learnrealenglish.com
Mobile App (Android & iOS):