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Why learning English just got a little bit harder
How big is your English vocabulary? Just how many words do you think you know? Perhaps more importantly, how many English words do you think you need if you want to communicate satisfactorily in the language?
When I lived in China (1980-82) I remember being told that a typical ten-year-old Chinese school pupil would probably know about 5,000 Chinese characters: an educated adult would need to recognise at least 15,000. I actually have no idea how many English words I know, and I’m far too ashamed to admit how few Chinese characters I learned when I lived there (not my teacher’s fault!). However many English words I know, I didn’t learn most of them the way most Chinese people learn most characters – by memorising them, learning them by heart. But then English is my mother tongue and, unlike Chinese, it has an alphabet.

Students at Xi'an Foreign Languages Institute
A much younger me, with my late wife and some of our students, at Xi’an Foreign Languages Institute (now Xi’an Foreign Languages University) in 1981. Where are they now? Do you recognise anyone here? Are you in this photo? If you have any information about anyone here please write. It could be such fun to re-establish contact after all these years.

My Chinese students were eminent scientists, technologists and technicians who had been awarded scholarships to study abroad – mostly at British and American universities (although a few went to Sweden, Canada and France). They were well-educated, hard-working and highly-motivated. I assumed therefore, they were cutting edge in every way, including their study methods. So I was totally baffled by one particular activity they all seemed to engage in.

Every afternoon, after lessons and lectures were over, our students would each take a small bamboo stool, place it among the flower-beds around the university buildings and then sit down, facing the wall (and as close to it as possible), and open their dictionaries. Most of them would then sit for two or three hours memorising words – learning the dictionary by heart. One day I approached one of my students and asked her what she was doing. “I’m doing ‘N’ today”, she answered.

Nothing in my life as a westerner, and nothing in my education or professional training as a language teacher, had prepared me for life in China at the end of the Cultural Revolution. It was sometimes tough; it was sometimes uncomfortable; it was often frustrating. But it was never boring. I visited some amazing places, had some fascinating experiences and worked with some truly lovely people – one or two of them remain good friends 25 years later. Going to China was probably the best choice I ever made, professionally.

You have to understand that I was young, ambitious and self-assured (arrogant might be a better word). So please forgive me but I was appalled by this study method. How could it possibly work? All my reading, all my research, all my experience told me that it must be inefficient, unproductive and, dare I say it, primitive? And yet…

And yet I bet that all my Chinese students learned more words that way than they ever learned from me. I bet that in their first year of study they learned far more English words than I learned Swedish words in my first year studying that language (and I was living in Sweden then!). They are probably all now highly-successful nuclear physicists, eminent professors of medicine, dedicated agro-chemical researchers and multi-millionaire entrepreneurs. I hope so. They worked so hard, under such difficult conditions, that they deserve it.

Well, no matter what your preferred study method for learning new words (and I still don’t recommend memorising the dictionary, by the way), your task just got a little bit harder this week. A new edition of one of our best-known dictionaries has just been published and, of course, it contains some new words. That’s one of the wonderful things about English (unless you’re a student, of course!). It changes all the time. New words come – and old words go (or change their meaning: think about the word ‘printer’ for a moment – when I was a boy ‘printer’ was a job, now it’s a machine). Even the grammar changes (don’t panic, it’s a fairly slow process, the present perfect isn’t going to disappear next week).

Two guys wearing hoodies Young people wearing ‘hoodies’. ‘Hoodies’ are banned in some public places, such as shopping centres, because they obscure the wearer’s face.

Everyone’s talking about their carbon footprint these days, and the term is now in the dictionary. I’ll have to try very hard to offset my carbon footprint after my return flights to New York this summer. Men, have you ever had man flu (is there any other kind, for a man?)? Women, could you possibly achieve size zero (and why would you want to?)? Have you ever worn a hoodie? Perhaps to cover up your muffin top (my favourite among these new terms)? Yes, these are all new vocabulary items which are included in the latest dictionary.

A muffin on a plate A muffin top
(1) A coffee shop muffin. (2) The bulge above low-waisted trousers or a skirt is now called a muffin top.

Quite a lot of you have been asking for study tips, recently. Uddhav, in Nepal, wants ‘more English words’ (I hope you can use these new ones, Uddhav). Kassim, from Benin wants specific advice to help him improve his English ‘quickly’. Uyen (Vietnam) actually gives a piece of good advice: “I try to find as many friends as I can to share experiences”. Paulraj, in India, understands the needs for ‘self discipline’ and ‘regularity’ but seems unsure of how to achieve them. Graciela, from Santa Fe, in Argentina (a country I have long wanted to visit) is more specific. She asks about spelling and the use of particular tenses.

I’ll try to include more study tips in future columns, meanwhile here’s the totally foolproof, one hundred per cent guaranteed, Stephen Keeler Miracle Method for Absolute Success in Life, Love and Language Learning (well, perhaps we’ll just focus on the language learning, eh?).

These are some of the many things my students soon get tired of hearing from me:
*Equip yourself properly
You can’t expect to be successful without a minimum of equipment and resources. Get two good dictionaries: one bi-lingual and one English. Buy a good, basic grammar reference book. Keep a vocabulary notebook for all the new words (and expressions) you discover. A pronunciation guide would be useful, too. And don’t forget the resource you’re using right now – the BBC Learning English service.

* A little – and often
Set aside between 15 and 20 minutes every day for dedicated, formal English study. Focus on a tense construction, a vocabulary group, some difficult spellings, or read or memorise a short text, listen to a short piece of spoken English and focus on pronunciation and/or intonation. Even if you are the busiest person in the world, if everyone needs a bit of your time, and if you are so famous you can’t walk down the street without thousands of beautiful women or men throwing themselves at you, you can still find 15 minutes every day to write a postcard, send an e-mail, make a phone-call – in English. Don’t leave it till the end of the week and try to do 7 x 15 minutes on one day. That won’t help. You won’t enjoy it. It’s not often enough. It’s wrong.

* Use what you can find
No matter where you live there will be some English somewhere. Thirty years ago I found a pencil, in Samarkand, which said, ‘Made in Czechoslovakia’ on it. Twenty-five years ago, in Albania, tractor tyres had the words ‘Friendship Pneumatic Tyre – Made in The People’s Republic of China’ on the side. Labels in clothes often give washing instructions in English. Ingredients are sometimes given in English on food packaging. I once found a brochure for Renault cars, in English, in a hotel room in Ulan Bator (Mongolia). Collect T-shirt slogans: here’s one I saw in Oxford last Saturday to start your collection: Ice-cream, chocolate, men – some things are just better rich. This kind of ‘found English’ is useful for vocabulary, fixed expressions, collocation and even grammatical usage. Make a scrapbook of them. Keep a diary.

* Talk to people
When I was a little boy my mother told me never to talk to strangers. Sorry, mum, but you were so wrong. How else can we experience life? Look out for English-speaking tourists and don’t be shy about introducing yourself and having a quick chat. Personally, I reckon that a five-minute chat is enough before most tourists will begin to think you’re a nutter. So keep it short and sweet, and, hey you may be lucky and meet the boy or girl of your dreams – and there’s no better way to learn a language than by falling in love with someone who speaks it, and riding off with them into the sunset to live happily ever after. Meanwhile, back in the real world…

* Keep a notebook of questions and problems
Every time you think of a question you can’t answer (or just something you think is interesting) write it in your notebook. Keep your notebook with you and ask native speakers (and your teacher, if you have one, of course) to help with the answers. Don’t expect tourists to be able to answer complex grammatical questions, but you could try things like, “What’s the difference between a biscuit, a cookie, a cake, a pastry and a pie?” for example. One of my best Swedish friends is a teacher of English. She’s very good. Her English is probably better than mine. But every time I see her (which isn’t very often) she opens her bag and pulls out her tattered notebook and says things like, “Hi Stephen, nice to see you. Why do ‘quite a lot’ and ‘quite a few’ mean the same?” Aaaggh!

* Establish good study habits
In addition to your 15-20 minutes per day, set aside one day each week to study for a little longer, e.g. an hour every Sunday morning. Use that time to read a newspaper or magazine article, to complete homework for your teacher if you are on a course, to visit relevant websites or to write to a penfriend, visit a chatroom or send e-mails.

*Don’t translate
Don’t construct your meaning first in your mother tongue and then try to translate it. It almost never works. Try to use the fixed expressions, idioms and collocations you already know. Learn new ones by reading. It is impossible to read too much, so you should always be in the middle of a good book. Thrillers, travel writing and children’s books are great for language students (I learned almost all the Swedish I know by ‘stealing’ books from the eight-year-old boy in the Swedish family I lived with when I first moved to Sweden: that’s not entirely true, I had a gorgeous Swedish girlfriend at the time (1974) and soon discovered where and how were the best places and situations in which to learn a foreign language. But I don’t want Lucy to get entirely the wrong (right?) impression of her father so I think we’ll say no more about that here, and move quickly on.

…your nearest British Council offices (usually at the British Embassy in your capital city) for a copy of their cultural programme (sometimes including English classes) in your country. I have worked for the Council in many countries in eastern Europe and I know they do good work, often with few resources. In some countries they have impressive offices and classrooms and libraries (Paris, for example). But in recent years they have also lost wonderful facilities (Prague, for example) and I think that’s such a mistake. The British Council, like the BBC World Service, should be so much better-funded than it is. In English we have an expression, “Use it – or lose it”. If you have a British Council office near you use it as often as possible and encourage your friends to use it, too.

That’s more than enough from me for this time. I’ve been sitting at my computer for far too long. I have a bad back and it’s killing me, so I’m going to take a break (and some painkillers). In any case, if I sit here much longer I’ll start to grow a muffin top, and that would be gross (why do you think I wear such long sweaters?). So, it’s a cup of tea with no-fat milk and a 5-calorie biscuit (not a cookie, not a cake, not a pastry – but I am so tempted, especially by all these photographs of food!).

It would be great, now, to hear from you. What are your preferred study methods? What works best for you? How do you learn new vocabulary, idioms, grammar? Have you ever had a particularly inspiring English teacher? Write and share your tips and experiences with the whole world.

By the time you read this Lucy will have only three more exams to take before she disappears off to All-Night-Party-Land for a month to compensate for all the time she’s spent with piles of books in her room. I don’t blame her. With luck, though, it might be possible to get her to say a few words about her ‘A’-levels next time.

Have a good fortnight.

Bye for now.

symbols which represent ‘words’ or parts of words in languages such as Chinese and Japanese

by heart
If you learn something by heart you memorise it.

well-known, important and respected

awarded scholarships
given money to help pay for studies

(to be) cutting edge
If you are ‘cutting edge’ (or ‘at the cutting edge of’ something) you are involved in most recent developments. Another similar expression is ‘state-of-the-art’. If something is ‘state-of-the-art’ it is the very latest, most recent, most modern. ‘State-of-the-art’ is not normally used about people.

confused; puzzled


unpleasantly proud; over self-confident; believing oneself to be superior to others

appalled (by)
disgusted or disappointed

dare I say it
If you say ‘dare I say it’ it is because you know that what you are going to say will upset or disappoint someone.

people who have started and run their own businesses

carbon footprint
the result, in terms of environmental damage, of certain actions such as taking flights, driving a car, disposing of rubbish, emitting industrial waste, etc

to offset
to compensate for

man flu
The term is used to suggest that men always exaggerate their illnesses in order to attract more sympathy. (For example a slight cold or a mild headache is labelled as man flu).

size zero
This refers to women’s clothes sizes, and is a small dress size in American measurement. Some successful celebrity models and actresses believe they are under pressure to be this size in order to continue to be employed.

a sweatshirt-style top with a hood, extremely popular with some groups of young people. There is a negative connotation here. Groups of young people (usually, but not always, boys and young men) on the streets and wearing hoodies can seem very threatening, especially to older people. In some shopping centres and other public places hoodies are banned.

muffin top
the visible bulge of flesh (fat?) which spills over the top of a low-waisted skirt or jeans.

By the way, in English a muffin is nothing like the ‘cake’ in the photograph above. That is an American ‘muffin’. Just to confuse you even more, the Americans call their (non-English) muffins ‘English muffins’, which they are not. However, British people use the word ‘muffin’ when they order an American muffin, for example in an American or Italian coffee shop. Confused? This is an example of language change and is probably the result of the worldwide spread of American coffee shops such as Starbucks.
English muffin English muffins should be split, eaten warm (preferably toasted) with poached or scrambled eggs (and bacon or smoked salmon, if you like) or with sweet fillings such as raspberry jam.

slang for mad person

(the boy or) girl of your dreams
your ideal or fantasy girl

torn or crumpled (because it is old and has been used a lot)

an expression of frustration

it’s killing me
it’s hurting me quite a lot

ugly and vulgar

Re-read the text to find out…
1. …how many adverbs there are in the first paragraph.
2. …how many verbs are in a past tense in the second paragraph.
3. …how many professions or job titles there are in the third paragraph.
4. …how many adjectives there are in the fourth paragraph.
5. …which word, in the fifth paragraph, means ‘making someone angry or upset because they are stopped from doing what they would like to do.’

ANSWERS: 1. 2; 2. 10; 3. 3; 4. 3; 5. frustrating

This section has now closed. Thank you for sending your comments.

Paulraj, India
Hi Stephen,Thanks for the piece of good advice for learning English. I have read your last posting thrice before I start writing this. First I have read while I was traveling by bus. And after finishing the travel I have read again with more attention and finally I have finished with the aim of what I want to comment. Each time almost I took fifteen minutes to complete your script. I do not know whether my reading level is correct nor am I a slow reader? Thank you for your comment on my view of self discipline and regularity to learn any new language, your tips surely will help us to go on right direction. I will spend 15 minutes each day specifically for developing English language. I have one doubt here. Shall I concentrate one day for tense, other day for vocabulary and the other day for article? Or the next one month shall I learn new words and the other month it will be for grammar, which one will be good and advisable? Because I feel I have taken many steps to improve my English language. I believe that I have achieved something. But I could not make it perfect even though I spend more than fifteen minutes every day. When ever I write something, I take that to my friends for correction. I feel shame when they corrected the very simple mistakes I committed. You do not agree with the method of Chinese students learning the words but you acknowledge their hard work. They have proved that they are successful in their life because of their hard work and thirst for achieving their goal. Let’s Stephen Keeler’s miracle method work on me. From today onwards fifteen minutes each day and one hour every week, I will intentionally use for improving my language. Hope I will get more tips from you the coming months. Till thin the photo you are in the middle.

Natalia, Russia
Stephen, thank you very much for your work! It helps us very much! Now I would like to share with everybody how I learn English. The most important thing in learning a foreign language I think is the aim. If you don't have an aim it could take a long to learn anything. So first of all you should think why you need English, maybe for your coming trip or for your career, or something else. After I set myself the goal I began to use this site: 1-2 hours every day or even more. Every day I learnt something new and you know it was quite hard. I copied out all unfamiliar words and collocations and then learnt them by heart. I can't say those days were very enterntaining for me. But after 2 weeks of such work I began to come across those words. It was fantastic to recognize them! Now every time I read a book in English I always find out words that I've learnt from BBC. It gives me more inspiration to visit this site.

Priya (Srilankan), Germany
Hi,I'm Priya. Thanks for this article; I really enjoyed reading it! It's useful and simultaneously witty!Now, my suggestion:Listening carefully to your favourite (English) singer and obtaining the lyrics, then learning the unknown words is didactic and fun, too!Because whenever you listen to the song again, you can sing along!!!I hope this entry is worth reading!

Alessandra,Brazil, Rio de Janeiro
Stephen hi!It's the second time I come to visit your section here in first time I read one of your articles I really loved it. This new one with so many tips on how to learn English and advices is priceless!I'll be coming more often and the comment about your Chinese students is very motivating. Yes... they work really hard. It's something cultural.. I don't know... they are always trying to do their best.Thank you for sharing your experience with us.. and keep up the good job hehehe See ya!

Cheong, Hong Kong
Hello, Stephen. Comparing now and ten or twenty years ago, there are much more people learning English in China. I guess sooner or later China may have the largest English speaking population in the world than any other country, perhaps except India. I've been learning English for many years but still far from good particularly listening and vocabulary. I think the way or tips you suggested in your column can definitely help us improve English proficiency. English is so rapidly evolving and we can only learn it from using it. The best way of learning English is to live with it even though we may not be living in an English speaking society. By the way, from my experience,Yoga is good for backpain. Painkiller won't work.

Luciano, Aracaju, Brazil
Hello Stephen, today was the first time I read your article and I realy loved it. I will suggest them to my students here in Brazil, would you mind it? see ya.

Shabbirhusain Shaikh, India, Gujarat, Ahmedabad.
Hello, Mr. Keeler,Your articles are really wonderful and informative. I have been reading your columns and have really been enjoying them. It helps a lot to improve my English. If you don't mind, I would like to suggest something. You are humbly requested to touch on the subjects like "phrasal verbs", "idioms" "slangs" "French words" etc. in detail, so that it can be useful for people like us to improve spoken English.

Stephen, Jerusalem, Israel
Hello, Stephen!I've just come across your column and liked it. Thanks for your job.

Ved Parkash, New Delhi, India
Hello Stephen! What is the difference between barbaric and barbarous. Can both these words be used alternatively ? Please clarify. With kind regards.

Guillermo, Mexico
Hi everyone; i think that learning all the dictionary is a madness, i once thought it might help me to acquire more vocabulary then quickly when i saw the dictionary thought NO WAY!! so what i did was to choose a subject and visit sites in the web that were related with something that is interesting, to me the hard part of learning english is when the words are shortened such as maintenence(main'nence) i thought were pronounced real fast but they weren't at all, it was confusing but then i got used to.

Maru, Argentina
Hi, Stephen! How are you? Thanks a bunch for your tips. As for the fourth one (talk to people) I want to share my experience with all of you: I was walking down the street and I went past a hotel of which hall was full of young English-speaking tourists. Perhaps you are waiting to tell you that I stopped and started a conversation with some of them but I have to admit I didn't do it. Then I got home and I immediately regret of not having a chat with a native speaker; shame on me! So please, as Stephen says: don’t be shy and seize the opportunity to improve your English! It would have been a wonderful experience if I had done it. Fortunately, the hotel is three blocks from my home and since then I always try to go past there and come upon a tourist =) Ok, that’s all for today. I’m keen to reading your next column. Wish you and Lucy all the very best!

Gwendoline, Belgium
Hi Stephen,Being asked to share my experience of learning English with the whole word, I can’t resist writing you. I’m 37 and I’ve been learning English for two years. I began with the excellent method ASSIMIL (thanks to Tony BULGER). I learned both books thoroughly. One of the advantages of this method is that you never learn an isolate word, but you learn it in its context (just the opposite of your Chinese pupils!). If you learn this method properly, you can repeat whole sentences by heart, which can be very useful! And the stories they tell you are so funny, that it’s a real pleasure to learn English. Now, believe it or not, my everyday teacher is the website. Since November 2006 I have been listening to the recordings week after week. And of course I never miss your column! English literature is also a teacher for me (I hope this sentence doesn’t sound too queer!). I’m fond of reading. I began with children literature. Then I discovered some of what they call “the greatest names in English literature” with the collection “lire en anglais”. This kind of books gives you the opportunity to pick out your favourite authors. Last but not least, I’ve been taking individual conversation courses for about 1 year. I am especially grateful to one of my teachers for having encouraged me. I noticed that some teachers are unable to do that. It’s a pity. By the way, do you know Stephen that this teacher is like you an English teacher, a mountain climber, and a writer? What a coincidence!I hope my experience will persuade some people to learn English. It’s really straightforward to learn English nowadays in our countries.Gwendoline

Sidibe, Bamako, Mali, West Africa
hi stephen , you are doing a very wonderful job to help people learn english, the universal language.

Viktoriya, Canada-Russia
Hi dear Stephen.I came across this site for the first time and you made my day today.Now I know where I have to go every time to update my English and learn different expressions and slang in fun.The way you write your story is like learning in the game.I started to read this article and didnt want to finish.Usually I push myself to read til the end of a article but this is just ....(I need expression here :) ) going swimmingly.Please keep doing what you are doing! Thanks a lot!

Marianna, Slovakia
Hi again! Actualy I don`t feel like learning but frustrated a lot. I do know notghing. I`ve briefly looked over the pages you`ve written til now. And there it repeats again and again to learn `by heart´:colocations, words, grammar and exceptions by(at, with) every rule.. The other day I`ve read an advertisement of a new Language school here which said it was based on `new´ method invented in Camridge.. Why all schools describe their methods as more effective, speedy and natural by learning incousciously as a child does? Memorising texts, which is the main method here, is not the way as it learns a child to speak. Or were those Chinese eminent students childisch or high educated persons who worked very hard? Memorising needs sharply focused mind, can this a child? I can`t wait I am getting to change myself and memorising is nothing for me. (In Celtic fairy tales the last sentence I finished to read yesterday was used a word hoodie as a black bird if I remember it corectly.) Best regards!

Pilar, Spain
Hello Mr Keeler! It's seem that you have lived a wonderful and thrilling youth. Living in different countries is one of my aims. ¿Could you tell us about how do you see yourself in ten years? I looking forwards to reading your next colum.Kindest regards

Teaver, Poland
Hey,I found your article very interesting. I'm an EFL tutor myself for a couple of years now, so I probably lack your experience, but I'd like to share with my thoughts on learning new vocabulary. I still remember myself as a secondary school learner, just trying to pass another test and learning all the words by heart. I know, you do need to work at home for a better result, but adult learners can't accept they learn "so slowly" and that it takes so much of their precious time. What my students sometimes lack, however, is not hard work, but patience. They cannot accept they won't understand things at once. In fact they seem not to care about understanding, they want to KNOW. They completely ignore the fact, that they may be understood and function quite well without perfect knowledge of a language and that grasping some ideas comes with time. Your article should make all the learners aware of this fact. I will recomend it to my own students for sure.Thank you!teaver

Jill Huang From Beijing
Hi Stephen. Long time no see. These days I am so busy and during the last whole week, I was on a business trip. Our company held an international energy conference in Guangzhou city, Guangdong province (Have you ever been there?). Before the conference-opening day, I only slept 6 hours in two days and ate very little. I still can’t imagine how I survived. Back to your column, I like this subject because I am always wondering why I can’t make a great improvement after learning English for many years. I’m familiar with the scenery that you described about the words memorizing method in Xi’an. In the first 1-2 years of learning English, I learned English words by rote. I must memorize which letter comes first and the collocation of the letters in an English word. It’s quite different with Chinese characters. But now, I have changed so much. Learning English is becoming a little easier for me and becoming an interesting thing, especially after I meeting you and beginning to read your essays. But there is still one more big thing. I am worried about my oral English. Thank you so much for the language learning suggestions. I will try them and insist on learning English. I hope one day I can write beautiful articles like you and talk to you fluently. It’s a hard task but I will never give it up. Before I read your suggestions, I like to translate Chinese articles into English, as I thought it’s a good method to improve my English. Now I know I was wrong. So much for today. Talk to you later. Take care. Jill.

Fellype, Brazil
Hi StephenYour suggestions are gorgeous. The best advice is pratice, pratice an dpratice. Even our car can be a classroom. I often listen to English lessons on CD while I´m stucked in a traffic jam. There´s one advice that I judge extremely important. Learn with pleasure. Do not impose to yourself a boring routine. Diversify the methods. And when you get tired of English, streth your legs for a while. Soon the desire for learning English (or any other language) will come back !!!That's it for now.Good luck for Lucy.

Jack Chen, China
Hi,Stephen.I'm from China,so I'm more intrested in your description about China,about Chinese characters and your chinese students.Chinese has more than 1'5000 characters ,generally speaking,5000 characters is enought for people to communicate with each other,because those characters can make numrous words which can exprss your ideas perfectly.I envy your chinese students they could get opportunity to study in the Xi'an Foreign Languages University,it depended on not only high grades but also good luck at the end of the Culture Revolution.As to their methods to learn English,I think they had no more choice in that difficute learn condition.Nowadays,few pepole learn English by memorising a dictionary in China.

Divya, India
Hello Mr Stephen Keller, I think you have enjoyed FATHER'S DAY that was celebrated recently!How did LUCY greet you? Do you know how many times I recollected you and your daughter on Father's day? I myself don't know!Now,coming to this fortnight's topic-Why learning English got just a little bit harder-I don't think this is so.Anyone who starts learning English via this medium would never find it difficult. Learning becomes very easy and interesting.It is a well known fact.Every body will and should accept it.Just now,after reading this fortnight's topic,I came to know that in the new edition of an English dictionary, a few new words will get included. Anyhow, I don't think I need to buy a new one.Because already you have written most of the new words with meanings.My learning has to start now .I shall try to follow all the other tips also that you have mentioned to improve my way of communication continuously.Thanks alot.

Asmaa, Egypt
Dear stephen, you advice about keeping a notebook to write down new learnt words is really great. I always forget most of the new vocabularies I learn and till a few moments ago didn't know the solution. What I do most of the time with the new words I learn is that, I listent to their pronunciation in some dictionary on-line so that I can get just the right pronunciation and then through the day keep listening to them whenever I get I chance. It's a goo practice. Bye

Adek, Poland
Hello Stephan :-) Once again it was a pleasure for me to read you blog. You challnged us, your readers, to share our tips and experiences with the whole world on our preferred study methods? What I think is that there are countless study methods. What you should do is to choose the ones which are best for you. Personaly I preffer reading books. But one method is never enough. I use lots of them at a time: I read book, watch English films and programms, I listen to a veriaty of programms on BBC's 'Watch and Listen', I try and write my comments to some BBC blogs. Unfortunatelly I haven't got too much opotunity to talk in English. I don't want to be boring so only one more thing: BBc Learning English and so you, Stephan, do a great job helping people all over the world to learn and improve their English; I try to take advantage of it. Thanks so much.

Praveera, India
hi!you are a good teacher. i want to learn english communication. i found this page really inspiring but want to know how can i go further, would you help me in some way?

Koorosh, IRAN
hello stephen keeleryou are great teacher i wish you had been my teacher. i really addict to your blog. your advice about learning english was good. could you tell me how i can improve my writing skills?

Hari Kumar Lama, Seattle, Washinton,USA
Hi Stephen, I forgot to mention that I'm from Nepal and currently live in Seattle, Washington, USA.Hari

Hari Kumar Lama, Seattle, Washinton,USA
Hi Stephen,Having read your column for the first time, I now realize what I was missing by not checking out your column earlier.It was the most productive 40 minutes of my whole day today that I spent in reading this column. To me,it was a master piece.It was the best column I've ever read to learn English. I'm impressed how nicely you have put your memories and experiences in such a short writing covering a period of 27 years (1980-2007)that teaches a lot to English learners like me. I was never fortunate ( those Chinese folks were really lucky ! ) to have help of a English guru like you.I was fascinated by English from 6th grade.It has helped me on several occasions.For example, to win in spelling contests and quizes while in school, to win an internship, to get job 3 times and to stand first among 300 hudred students for 2 consecutive years while in college.I had to work extra hard though.Because both of my parents were illeterate and both of my elder sisters had to drop out of school berfore passing grade 6 or 7 to work.I had to sell my watch to pay for tuition to join an English language Center because my parents had no resources for that.I made several trips to British Council to borrow books.Yet, I still feel that I'm nowhere near the point where I'm confident to be comfortable so far as English language porficiency is concerned. Neverthless, English learnig is my passion and hope to continue to learn it.I'm sure, English students from far and wide will immensely benefit from your wonderful columns.Let me thank you on behalf of all of them for such a fantastic job.Thanks to BBC and you for this opportunity to write you.

Nadya, Russia
Ha! By the way, following your advice, I checked with my US penpal the expression Muffin top. They have another for this thing - "love handles", which can mean that well if u love a person, u'll handle even such shapes! That's my favourite moment in studying foreign languages - finding such funny and sometimes unexpected metaphors :) I like US's also "curls for the girls" and "6packs"

Marisela, Venezuela
You are so funny. I will keep in my mind your suggestions, I sometimes feel with a lot a lot of informations, that I don't know where to start You know it's very disappointed I get ungry but I need patient Learning a new language takes long long time Thanks again for your suggestions

Nunthamont, Thailand
Thank you for your column. It help me to known the way to learn English. I am very shy when I think of my english. Now I try to learn it more for communication in my office.I hope you can understand my comments.

Iris, Germany
Dear Stephen! It’s always lovely to hear from you! No doubt you are a particularly inspiring English teacher with a great experience and your Miracle Method is the best one in the world. You put the difficult things of English Grammar across to us in a way which makes them so easy to understand. As for my way to learn English, I like watching English TV’s channels, e.g. Performance, and listening to the beautiful melody of English speech. And I am always glad about understanding of the new words which were already learned by heart. Every day I try to read the books and to listen to BBC radio 4. By the way, the new term ‘muffin top’ is so amusing. That‘s a nice comparison! But when I have to cover up my muffin top it really gets on my nerves. Well, the difficult exam days are over and you both can relax. That’s a wonderful time, isn’t it? Hope to hear from you again soon. My best regards to you and Lucy!

Ikechi Nzeako,Lagos
This is the first time I am coming across this site and I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I have made it a duty to visit the site on a regular basis.

Naheed from Pakistan
Hello Sir, It's always great to read yuor column. I would like to say that your daughter Lucy looks like her mother. To learn English I read newspaer, magazines, books(it can be school books too)and websites including The BBC learning English. I keep a note book in which I wrtie new words and also wrtie their use as noun, verb, adjective etc. Besides learning new words I also make portion in my note book for idioms, phrases and expressions. To memorise a new word or idiom I practice for 2 days through various sentences. I also watch English channels like BBC-food/news and a keep a book with me. As I hear many new words and it's not easy to wrtie them up all, I select only those which I can use in everyday English. I try to keep speaking, reading,writing and listening together in my everyday learning as this shows results a bit faster. I have a question:Is it important to keep bilingual dictionary? I sometimes find it confusing and your opinion will help me.

Wisarut , Thailand
How have you been ? Teacher Keeler!! Nice to see you again. I prefer reading this topic very much. Obviously I attempt to develop English skill so as to take an Tofel examination. I immerse all English skills in to real life as you advice. In the aspect of learning English , I normally learn vocabulary by heart not to memorize at all. And I find therefore that it is such wonderful learning English , I am nerver tedious . English is alive !!! Anyway as concerning hoodie , normally adolescence in Thailand would like to wear in some occasions - informal situation . I like to wear when I hang out with my friends and all friends love too. Interestingly I kill one hoodie like brown colour. I find when I shopped at supermarket with my mother . Bravo!! It is time to ask question. How 's life in China ? Have you ever been travelling at other places in Chian ? Keep me posed!! See you next time. < Wisarut S >

Roxana Carina. Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Hey Stephen! You know when I was a teen I used to learn new words by reading my longman monolingual the Chinese students of yours!!! That was also a wonderful way of learning phonetics! And believe it or not, by using the simplest definitions you get encouraged to keep reading. I agree with you when you say that studying every day at least 15' is more productive that only 3 hours per week. To my mind learning a foreign language is like working out, to keep fit you should do something often, at least very few minutes but frequently. Thanks for tipping us! Regards!

Kirsti, France
Hi, Stephen. I quite agree with you, falling in love with a native speaker is a marvellous way of learning a language. That's how I learnt French.I think using the Learning English Message Board or e-mailing in English are fantastic ways of learning. It's so thrilling to see if you've got an answer so spending ONLY 15-20 minutes a day on English is hard. Bye-bye.

Hello, Stephen. You wrote about your travels, so I am curious to know if you have ever been to Serbia or any ex-Yugoslavia country. Are you still in New York? When will we be reading about your travel experience in New York? Thank you for your useful tips about study methods. I spoke English with a sailsman from China, with some soldiers from Holland, Kenia and France, with some people who lived in Bosnia but now thwy live in America... These people have been living there for less than five years, they don't know the grammar rules but when they speak English, they sound so confident and natural. For me, as a learner of English, the biggest problem is how to sound more natural. How is it possible that a native speaker of English, who does not know the grammar rules, is always able to speak English better than a teacher of English, who is not a British and English is not her mother tongue, but she knows the grammar rules perfectly? I was confused when you wrote that English of your Swedish friend, who is a teacher of English, is better than yours! How this can be possible when English is your mother tongue? Are there any difference among these job titles or jobs:" a teacher of English

Julia, Russia
Hi Stephen,I'm impressed by your latest article, looks very helpful and actually many of the rules that i found here, I've been practising successfully for quite a while.I feel quite confident about my writing, listening and particularly reading skills, but speaking - it's killing me. When i'm chatting with the folks whose second language is english, i do very well. But when it comes to talking to native speakers, i get paralysed. Every single word that is about to come out of my mouth I analyse from the point of view - how they will assess my speaking. And usually at this very moment it's bubbling in my mind: my pronounciation is filthy, my grammar sucks, this word is irrelevant etc. The bottom line - all this comes true.Please, advise how to overcome this frustrating embarrassment and start speaking fluently.Many thanks in advance.

Dola, Bangladesh
Hello Stephen,The write up was really an informative one. Besides, we could come to know some new english and the way to use them. Before reading this writing i knew that the chinese are quite industrious in general. But, i am amazed to know their sincerity and dedication to their works. They deserve the places they are now holding in different institutions or organization. Thank you for such a knowledgeable articale. We will remain up for you next writing. Bye

Ad, Germany
I've heard the Londoner's nature is not cold, it is frozen. True?...and thanks for writing in such simple words!

Virginia, Hong Kong
Hi Stephen, I like reading your blog very much. Thank you very much for sharing your ideas of learning English. In my mind, I tried a lot of methods in the past, but most of them were failed. Because I can't make it as a habit, I didn't do it everyday. Lately, I found a method which was suitable for me. When everyday I get on the train, I try to see any foreigners around. If I can spot one, I will approach to him/her, then take a deep breath and ask for the permission of a short chatting. I was succeeded every time(up to now, I tried around 10 times), they were very nice. I was very happy and it was very funny when they shared their cultures. Through the conservation, I recognized more people in the world, it was very nice for me! Virginia

Gloria, Spain.
Hello Stephen, I’m Gloria from Spain. I have discovered your column by chance, and I believe that it is very interesting and I like reading it very much. Since I have discovered it I expect every fortnight for reading it. I reckon that it is very useful for English learners. I will try to follow your piece of advice for improving my English but I guess that it will be quite difficult to find time to study English every day. I’m sure that your daughter will do a good work in her A-levels exams because she’s studying a lot.Best wishes!

Marianna, Slovakia, Bojnice
Hello! That were all, including a Signature, very encouraging advice.I hope the next tips you intend to instruct us in the future column won`t kill us! I am used to sitting in a bamboo chair instead of lying all the time but it doesn`t help much at my learning. I live on the highest sixth floor of a block of flats(right hot there these days). A huge beetle, at least 4cm, was going down the wall when I opened the window. How many words could I learn the time I spent looking it (and not get dizziness)? A bug didn`t took off on wings but crept stright head downwards to the ground. Why I as a reasonable being am not so persevering in walking stright to a goal? Any ambitious reaserchers didn`t solve this. And what I want to learn? I would like to feel like Wisarut, my fawourite blogs commentator, having piles of books to learn from with such big desire to know everything. My fawourite teachers? The first was a cheerful student of English. I wasn`t able to put down any thought to homeworks she gave me til last hours befor the lesson. And yes, there was an useful course supported by the British Council in slovak newspaper recently. To Stephen I just want to tell that since I bought the first hoodie I get ussed to taking it each day with for there is always cold on my back or I`ll maybe go for a swim or even on unforeseen flight to the foggiest London. But I don`t know if the word `keporkak´ plural `keporkaky´is in that dictionary? That is a term for the biggest whale "Megaptera" in czech language, the word I like the most. Hot sunny days to all!

Olivia, Ukraine
Dear Stephen, thank you very much for your column. It's really interesting to read your new article. You've been touched very important questions for us. What are the ways of studiyng? Honestly to say, both teachers and students know these methods very well, but the main problem is motivation. How can we conquer our idleness? Once I had good experience in it. I joined to a group of students whose knowledge was much better than mine. That was a shame! I read very slowly and hardly understand discussions in class. Every lesson i had to overcome my feelings and came to class. But i worked hard and did good progress at least. So ambition is a good motivation. What other motivations do work?Wishing good luck to Lucy on her exams!Best wishes,Olivia

Adriano Brazil
Very good! I would like to add the most important advice for English learner."Practice makes perfection"

Ana Paula, Brazil
Hello Stephen!I waited anxiously for your column, and as usual it was a pleasure to read it.Well, I´ve been atteding English classes once a week for 8 years, and this year I started a FCE course, which has been great, because I´m learning more about grammar. However, I have to confess that I´m a bit worried about the speaking test in FCE. There´s a part in the speaking test which you have to look at a picture and then you have to compare, to contrast and then give your opinion about it in one minute! Oh my goodness! When I´m practicing (why is so hard to speak?), my teacher always says kindly: 'Don´t worry, take your time'. How I´m going to take my time if I only have one minute! Aaaggh!Anyway, I´ve already dreamed (nightmare?) about the speaking test, and in this dream a teacher with a huge clock head was running after me screaming 'compare, contrast, and give your opinion! Oh... I´m think I´m a bit nutter about this. Oops! Err.. I´m think I´m changing the subject! Well, as I don´t have many opportunities to speak English, I talk to myself in English( my mother thinks I´m crazy...well, maybe I became a little bit! :-) )in order to improve my pronuntiation, and as I really enjoy reading books and watching films I try to learn new vocabulary and idioms from them. And of course, above of all, I´m always visiting BBC LE site, which is my contact with English world and my everyday teacher.Best wishes,Ana Paula.

Stephen Keeler
Stephen Keeler

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