Me…. English…. Fantastic! ….this book….all!…… I know.
A lot of students want to learn English as quickly as possible and, of course, we like our students to be ambitious and to push themselves. The only problem is that learning a language is not the same as learning Mathematics. Once you learn how to calculate the area of a circle, you can do it every time perfectly. You may make mistakes sometimes but basically, you just apply the formula to the problem and you get the answer. You can say that you know how to calculate the area of a circle and you are ready to progress to the next thing, maybe the area of a cone.
Learning a language is not the like that. Maybe, you are in a pre-intermediate class and you’ve been in it for 3 weeks. You understand the grammar well, you can do the exercises quite easily, you follow the reading texts and you feel that you are one of the strongest students in the class.
So, you think that you should move up to the next level; the intermediate class. This would be fine if you were learning Maths, but languages are different. The difference is that using a language is a skill, not just a list of facts and ideas to learn. And this means that you need to practice it and be able to use it in a quick, relaxed and flexible way. All circles are the same but all situations and meanings are different.
Learning a language is like learning to drive. In your second or third driving lesson , you can probably turn right at a roundabout. You won’t hit any other cars or crash into the wall but it will be very difficult, you will be nervous and hesitant and you won’t do it very well. What you need is more practice so that you can do it smoothly and without too much stress. Also, each time you turn right at a roundabout is a little bit different, you may be behind a bus or maybe there’s a cyclist next to you. If you can handle these differences in a safe and relaxed way, then you can say that you truly know how to turn right at a roundabout.
It’s the same with language. You need to be able to use the past continuous in positives, negatives and questions, say it correctly, not think for 3 seconds in the middle of the sentence and know when to use it and when not to use it. Then you can say that you know the past continuous. And it’s not just a question of grammar and vocabulary. Your general ease and fluency needs to improve too so that you are not always trying very hard to understand and speak in any situation.
In work or in academic studies, it’s often a bad thing to be in a comfort zone. In language learning, it’s a positively beneficial thing, you need to go through periods in your comfort zone. Maybe, you are not learning a great deal of new language (you can always learn vocabulary) but you are becoming more fluent, you can say more things about more topics in more different ways, it’s not painful to be in a conversation. Being able to listen and understand without too much effort and reading quicker; this is also progress. If you want to go up to next class too soon, you will miss this stage of your language development. Remember, it’s not Maths.