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Question All the Language Learning Advice You Get

Never assume the language learning advice they give you works for you

Image of a statue of a person thinking and questioning
Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash
Some language teachers say, “Want to learn a language? Forget about learning grammar! Speak instead!”
 

I agree. You’ll never get fluent in a language if you never speak it. I’ve said this to my students many times. This is great advice.

It’s great advice for whom, though?

If all you’re doing to learn a language is completing grammar exercises, then yes, stop learning grammar, get out of your study room, and start having conversations.

However, if you can already communicate well but still make mistakes, then you should probably reject this advice.

My Italian partner, Aloha, is a good example of a person who should do this.

Aloha became an expert English speaker by working in Australia and New Zealand without ever opening a grammar book. She watches TV series in English, can communicate in English on the phone, and can even make jokes when interacting with native English speakers.

She still makes grammar mistakes though. She’s aware of this. She often says, “I know some of the things I say are grammatically wrong, but I don’t know why they’re wrong.”

Aloha shouldn’t “forget about studying grammar” if she wants to become a better English speaker.

Quite the opposite.

She should sit down with a grammar book and figure out how English works. This could help her become aware of the imperfections in her English, so she can fix them and communicate even better.

If you’re in Aloha’s situation, “Forget about speaking! Study grammar instead!” might be better advice for you.

***

It’s easy to find language learning tips these days. The internet is full of language teachers, coaches, learners, YouTubers, TikTokers, linguists and polyglots who give you advice and tips on how to learn a language.

I am one of these people too.

But we know nothing about you and your specific situation. We don’t know how you like learning, what you’re language goals are and what works for you in particular.

This is why the best advice I could give you is to add a question mark at the end of every piece of advice you receive.

If they say, “Keep a vocabulary notebook,” change it to, “Keep a vocabulary notebook?”

Then go do it.

Use a vocabulary notebook for 6 months and see if it helps you expand your vocabulary. If it doesn’t, try again. Find other learners who have a vocabulary notebook and ask them how they use it. If it still doesn’t work, throw your vocabulary notebook out the window and do something else instead.

Learning is a highly personal activity. So don’t assume that the advice you’re given is automatically the best for you just because it came out from the mouth of an expert.

Question all the language learning advice you receive.

Question everything I said in this article too.

Fabio Cerpelloni is an English language teacher, writer, author, and podcaster from Italy. You can find out more about him and his work by clicking on his glass of beer in the photo.