Get Rid of Bad Learning Habits

Last week I went to the headquarters of a bank, where I had a meeting with a department manager. “Jodie” (not her real name) wanted me to teach her English. However, the first meeting was only to talk.

She was a pleasant, well-dressed woman, but seemed to be insecure. By the time we finished talking, I asked Jodie whether she wanted me to start teaching her. We still had plenty of time for that. She said no, and made an appointment for the next week. I agreed, of course, but I intuitively knew that I wouldn’t be teaching her. Why not: because after many years of teaching I know what kind of people want to be taught English, and which people are “problematic.”

I know it sounds a bit harsh. But some people have a few problems that result in them being unable to learn anything new.

So I thought I’d write about this for the Newsletter. If you have one of the underneath bad habits, get rid of them as soon as possible!

Bad habit no. 1: Fret about your “bad English” all the time.

Sound obvious maybe, but people who talk about how they don’t feel confident about their English, how they’re afraid to make mistakes, and how they always have trouble finding the right word when they’re talking  — also think about this all the time. They think about this so much that they’re unable to focus on learning English. Thinking about their problems blocks their mind and makes them stupid.

When you want to learn English, or anything at all, you need to be able to relax and focus on what people are saying, so you can learn from them.


Bad habit no. 2: Depend on your teachers too much.

Jodie told me she had had three different teachers, who had all taught her for a year. But still she felt it was “not enough.” Actually, her English wasn’t so bad, but she did have a few grammar problems and her vocabulary wasn’t great either. I’m sure her old teachers were fine. Jodie said they had mainly focused on reading articles together. But when I asked her whether she read any English articles on her own, she said no. And also, she didn’t talk to people abroad on the phone, although this was part of her job. So actually, Jodie spent one hour a week on learning English. That’s not a lot. I think that anyone who wants to learn English fast, has to read and talk in English as much as they can.

The lesson here is that your English teacher can be fantastic, and they really can teach you many things that you wouldn’t discover on your own. They can also be helpful in correcting your mistakes. However, it’s impossible to learn English well if you don’t use your teacher’s lessons in your own life. If you live in a country where English isn’t spoken, it’s easy to give up and think: I have no one to talk with in English. But many people now have jobs where they have to talk to people abroad, on the phone or in person. I recommend my students to just take those calls — even if they think their English is “very bad.” In some cases, their English isn’t so bad. But even when your English really is terrible, just ask your teacher how to talk on the phone. You will quickly learn after a few “practice calls.” The same thing with emails: just start writing them. Ask an English teacher or someone else with good English to correct them.

Bad habit no. 3: Be ashamed of your English.

Jodie works in a high position in the bank. She is involved in a job where she has lots of contacts with foreign banks and governmental organisations. So actually, Jodie should have high-level English. She doesn’t have that, and it is clear that she is embarrassed because of it. Her solution is not to speak in meetings with English-speaking people. However, that means that she can never practise her English. She only practises her English in the English lessons, but otherwise she is stuck. Her career probably is stuck too. Or if she is lucky, and her career keeps advancing, her English is not improving as much as it should. One day her bosses are going to find out.

What Jodie should understand here is that nobody is perfect. People don’t get to high positions because they are perfect. They may have a weak point (or two), and they should work on making it better, not try to hide it or run away from it.


You know the saying about the glass that is half full or half empty. If you focus on how your glass of English is half empty, you’ll have a hard time learning the language. If you focus on how you’ll be learning more and more English every single day, your glass will get fuller and fuller. One day, probably sooner than you’ll expect, you will get a very pleasant feeling: Hey, I know English now.

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