Let’s face it: it’s hard learning a language. And it’s especially hard when there is pressure on you to learn it. Many people nowadays have to learn English for their jobs or to travel, or to be able to find information online (much of which is in English).
Others simply want to learn English to be able to understand music, movies, and television. When you have a need to learn a language, this can motivate you, but it can also be very worrisome and frustrating.
Whatever your motivation is to learn English, the process isn’t easy and some people struggle. Perhaps you’re studying on your own but you aren’t making much progress. Or maybe you’re taking an English class but you aren’t learning the same amount as your classmates.
What are the signs that you need help? And how can you get the help you need? Here are three signs to look out for and tips for finding help.
3 Signs You Need Help Learning English
1. You only understand about 30–50% of spoken English
Listening is an incredibly important skill to have in a language. In fact, a popular study in the 1950s found that about 45% of communication between adults is occupied by listening.
Speaking makes up 30% of communication, reading is 16%, and writing is 9%. Thus, without effective listening skills, you miss out on about half of communication with other people.
English learners often say that listening is one of the hardest skills to learn.
Listening can be difficult for several reasons: the speaker may be talking quickly; there is background noise; you can’t see the speaker (e.g., in a phone conversation); the listener has a limited vocabulary or limited knowledge of the topic; or he/she can’t distinguish individual sounds.
If you find yourself struggling to understand a speaker when he/she is speaking quickly, over the phone, or when there is background noise, you probably need to improve your listening skills.
It would be fantastic if all listening situations were like classroom audio exercises – everyone around you is silent, the speaker is speaking slowly, and you can hear the dialogue more than one time – but obviously it’s much harder in real life.
Focus on listening and your overall communication skills will improve.
2. You can’t express what you want to express about everyday topics
When you’re first learning a language, you learn basic vocabulary related to familiar topics such as places, people, animals, and so forth. You also learn basic grammar; in English you learn the simple present, simple past, and simple future, among a couple others.
These topics and structures can help you get by in very basic situations. For example, you may be able to order food or ask for directions or tell someone basic information about yourself.
But if you can’t say much beyond these things – and you need to – then you know that you need help learning English.
3. You study a lot but you’re not improving
If you’re studying English consistently but you’re not getting better, you may need to examine the ways that you’re studying. The amount of time you put into learning a language can have an impact, but it’s not the most important factor. The way you study is much more important.
Make sure that you’re studying topics, vocabulary, and grammar that are relevant and interesting to you. Study fewer words every day but try to use those words in writing and speaking. Go for depth, not breadth.
Expand the tools you use to study. If you’ve only been using a textbook to study, go online and find some useful websites and videos; if studying is boring, find some online games you can play to practice English; see if you can find a language exchange partner or a private tutor.