I was thinking recently about when I learnt to drive and it occurred to me that there are some similarities with learning a language. Read my story about learning how to drive and see what you think!
Automatic car Manual car
In England, you can learn to drive and get a licence when you are 17 but I had my first lessons when I was 18. I didn't like my first teacher because he was a bit scary! My second teacher was much better. He was kind and patient and I started to make some progress, but even so, I was a very slow learner.
After about 20 lessons one summer, I was still practising the basics. I remember once I was waiting for a traffic light to go green and when it did, stalled the car (which means I made the engine stop by mistake). It took me so long to restart it that the light went red again! Roundabouts terrified me and one time, my instructor changed gears for me without me even noticing.
In October that year, I started university and didn’t have time for driving lessons. I started lessons again during the Christmas holiday in December but I felt like was like starting all over again. At this point, I decided to give up.
Four years later, I had almost finished at university and realised I would need a car for work. I was so scared about learning to drive that I cried and had an argument with my parents! I thought I would never be able to learn!
Eventually, I decided to have a lesson in an automatic car. My mum and dad thought it was a bad idea because, in the UK, if you take your driving test in an automatic, you are not allowed to drive a manual car. However, after just one lesson, I knew it was the right thing to do. My teacher was great and the automatic car was much easier. Suddenly, learning to drive seemed possible again!
Unfortunately, I failed my first test because I made some stupid mistakes. I was too nervous! After my test, I bought myself a car anyway and my mum took me out to practise every day for a month. After that, I was much more confident and I passed my test the second time.
So what does this have to do with learning English?! First of all, I wonder if any of you have had bad experiences with English that made you lose interest in learning or even made you too scared to try again. That’s what happened to me with driving and perhaps some of you have lost your confidence with English in a similar way. All I can say is don’t give up! Try again!
The second thing I wondered about when thinking about my story is the teacher. Do you think it’s important to have a good teacher? For me, it really did make a huge difference to my success. I also remember teachers I didn’t like at school and I never liked their subjects either! But perhaps it’s different when you’re an adult and more able to motivate yourself.
Motivation is really important. I needed the pressure of needing a car for work to motivate me to learn to drive. What motivates you to learn English? Maybe it’s important in your job or in your daily life or maybe you’re just learning for fun things like watching Netflix. When you are not feeling motivated to study, remind yourself of the reasons you want to know the language and it will help you.
When I stopped having lessons to go to university, I forgot a lot of what I had learned. I improved faster when I had those lessons in the Christmas holidays so I hadn’t completely forgotten everything, but I realised that I needed consistency if I was ever going to master driving. The same can happen when you’re learning a language. If you don’t practise consistently, you start to forget. On the positive side, if you have a break, you won’t forget everything, you can get back to where you were and it doesn’t take as long the second time.
I think the thing that helped me the most in the end was going out with my Mum every day to practise between lessons with my instructor. This is what gave me the confidence to pass my second driving test. I’ve taught English to lots of students, both in a language school and in online lessons, and the people who make the most progress are the ones who practise using their English between lessons. This is about consistency again.
I finally learnt to drive when I switched to an automatic car. I realise that this is not a perfect analogy but if you’re struggling with your English, perhaps you too need to try a different approach. Think of something that you have never done before. This could be watching videos, listening to a podcast, writing a journal, or joining a Facebook group. There are many other things you could try.
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