The Importance of Study Habits – The Story of Two Students

I don’t need to explain to you that a bit of work can get you somewhere. If you’ve lived longer than one year, you’ve found this out yourself. So if I ask you what is better, to learn English once a week or twice a week, I’m sure you already know the answer.

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Let me tell you about two students of mine. Their stories are real, but their names are not. They’re both male, so you won’t think that their differences are caused by the difference in sex. But boy, are my two students different!

First there’s Guy. Guy takes a class twice a week. When he’s not in class with me, he looks through his notes and listens to a CD that I gave him. He does a few pages of homework when he’s at the beach at the weekend. Guy has a busy job as a salesman, and on the side he also has a freelance job as a speaker of radio commercials and telephone announcements. Guy is not a genius; in fact he’s of average intelligence. He takes the average number of repeats before he remembers a word, at least ten times. He easily gets confused about words. He needs to hear many examples before he can use a new word or grammatical construction, which is all perfectly normal. He likes to shop for English books & audios and often shows me a new disk, app or book he’s discovered and that he’s using. Guy will send me text messages about changing the time of the lesson in English. Sometimes there are mistakes in the messages, but at least he tries. He also answers in English when we talk on the phone. If Guy can’t come to the lesson for some reason or because it falls on a holiday, he will move the lesson to another day.

My second student is Ram. Ram takes a class whenever it suits him, on average once every two weeks. Ram is a doctor and quite a famous one, with thousands of patients. The reason Ram doesn’t know English well is he never learnt English in school and he studied in Germany so he spoke German all the time — not a word of English. Ram is above average intelligence, and he understands things quickly. He can make jokes in English, and he will try to make sentences with words that he doesn’t know the meaning of. Ram cancels his lessons when he travels abroad, on holidays or when he has a business meeting. He never does homework or looks at his notes. Sometimes he tries at night, but he gets many phone calls from his patients or from his siblings* (he’s the eldest of eight). Ram sends me text messages in Hebrew, or with only the greeting in English (good morning). When he speaks on the phone with me, he says good morning and how are you, then switches to Hebrew. Just before the lesson with me, he opens his notebook to review the last lesson in a hurry. By a miracle, he manages to remember a lot.

* a sibling is a sister or brother

What Are the Two Students’ Study Results?

So now that you’ve read about the two students, what do you think their study results are after four months of teaching them? Will Ram’s cleverness and amazing memory make him more successful than Guy, who is less clever, but more hard-working? How important is it that Guy takes a lesson twice a week and looks through a book or app whenever he can? Whose English is better, Ram’s or Guy’s?

Whew, I know, that was an easy question.

No doubt, Guy’s English is much better than Ram’s. That is not to say that Ram’s English isn’t impressive. He obviously learned a lot in those four months, but he only remembers the basics of what we learned. He doesn’t remember the finer points. He’s eager to learn a lot each time we meet, but he also forgets many of the things we learned. Why does he forget things? Well, simply because there is too much time between meetings. Ram doesn’t have time to practise his English because he’s busy with his clinic. And what you don’t practise, rusts.

Guy, on the other hand, improved his English a lot. His pronunciation has improved. His grammar is very solid. He doesn’t make the mistakes anymore that he made in the beginning. He uses the right verb forms and the right word order; two problems he had when we first met. Another very good quality that Guy has is that he gladly reviews the old material. He will really sit down to check that he remembers and knows how to use sentences and expressions in English. What’s more, he’s able to accelerate his learning (make his learning even faster), because he reads, writes and listens to English also when he’s not in a lesson.

Conclusions: More is Better than Less.

As the examples of Guy and Ram show you — and I have seen many other students and kept track of their achievements — learners of English (or any other subject) should study English at least once a week, and more than once a week is better. It doesn’t matter whether you learn English from a teacher, from a book, a website, a CD or an app. You need to do things in English regularly. Don’t give in and think: “Oh, I’ll learn English tomorrow” when it’s your birthday, someone else’s birthday or you are swamped in work. If you want to learn good English, or anything else for that matter, you need to make time for it. That also counts for clever people!

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