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Are you looking to become fluent in English? If so, you might have considered taking a class at an English school.
It’s the first thing most people think of.
I have taught English for over 10 years and have spent a lot of time learning languages myself.
But here’s a secret that I don’t often share with my students: you don't actually need teachers like me.
With all the incredible resources on the Internet these days, it’s easy to learn a language without a teacher. And in fact, you might actually be better off learning it yourself.
Here are 8 reasons why you should not learn English in a classroom:
- You will learn passively rather than actively.
- You will focus on grammar.
- You won’t choose what you learn.
- You will waste time.
- You’ll focus on getting good marks.
- It’s boring.
- Some classes are not designed to actually get you fluent.
- It’s expensive
1. You will learn passively rather than actively.
Passive learning happens when you are simply exposed to information. For example, when a teacher tells you something, or when you read about something in a book. Active learning happens when you really work with the information—when you reflect on it, repeat it, rephrase it, translate it, or even say it out loud.
But most English schools do not emphasise active learning. I would know—I’ve worked in a lot of them. Occasionally, you will find a good school that focuses on actually using language and processing it. But many English schools will simply put you in a class, give a lecture, and ask you to take notes. There may be some opportunities to speak, but often these are limited.
If you are going to take classes in a language school, choose formats that emphasise active learning. This includes one-on-one classes or schools where they structure classes to have lots of speaking time.
But you don’t need to attend a language school to become fluent in English.
2. You will focus on grammar.
When you take classes in an English school, a lot of your class time will focus on teaching grammar rules and doing textbook exercises. This can be a waste of time.
It’s not that grammar isn’t important—it is. Grammar is essential for making ourselves understandable to others. And learning grammatical rules from a textbook or in a class can be very useful, especially for beginners.
But at an intermediate level, it is much more effective to learn grammar by being exposed to language. We call this language acquisition: acquiring language through subconscious processes.
Rather than focusing on remembering grammar rules, you can learn just as much about grammar from listening to native speakers, watching English films, or reading in English. This is one of the reasons why you should use podcasts to learn English: they allow you to acquire the language and grammar rules naturally.
Language acquisition is how children learn language and can be just as effective as remembering grammar rules.
The other downside of focusing on grammar? It’s boring. One of the best ways to keep yourself motivated for learning language is to make sure it is interesting.
Listening to native English speakers will teach you as much about grammar as doing textbook exercises will. And, if you enjoy what you’re listening to, and the content is actually interesting, you’ll do more of it.
3. You won’t choose what you learn.
Lots of research has shown that when students are engaged in the process of deciding what they want to learn, they learn more. When you choose the content, you absorb more.
Most English schools do not ask students what they want to learn. The curriculum is usually developed by an “expert” who doesn’t actually teach anymore. Many schools use lesson plans that are sometimes 10, 15, or even 20 years old.
You will probably not get to choose what you want to learn.
Rather than taking classes, design your own language-learning program and choose your own content.
4. You will waste time.
Classes in an English school usually progress only as fast as the slowest student. This makes sense—the teacher wants to be inclusive and ensure everyone is keeping up.
But unless you’re the slowest student, that means you might be waiting around for others.
It’s a much better use of your time to learn English independently. This will allow you to learn as quickly as you like. If you master the past tense in 30 minutes, you can move on to something else.
Learning on your own is much more efficient than learning in an English school classroom.
5. You’ll focus on getting good marks.
English schools are obsessed with tests and grades. They mean well; the idea is that you can see your progress by your grade on a test.
But there are lots of problems with grades. Research shows us that providing grades can actually lead to worse learning outcomes. Emphasising numeric grades causes students to take fewer risks and actually learn less than when we are not focused on grades.
English schools emphasise grammar exercises and tests because they care about accuracy; they want to help students avoid mistakes.
But actually, making mistakes is an essential part of learning English. Focusing too much on accuracy can impact how fluently we speak. We can get so worried about whether this is the right word or not that it interrupts our ability to communicate.
Because English schools focus on getting good marks and not making mistakes, they may actually slow down your learning and ability to speak fluently.
6. It’s boring.
Let’s face it: English classes can be boring. I’ve taught many lessons on topics that were not interesting at all. As a teacher, I always did my best to make my classes engaging. But I know that sometimes they were just tedious.
Most people don’t choose materials that interest them. This is one of the most common mistakes people make when they learn English. If you don’t use material that interests you, you won’t stay motivated to learn, and you won’t try as hard.
Finding interesting material helps you to come back and engage consistently over a long period of time.
7. Some classes are not designed to actually get you fluent.
Here’s the best reason to not learn English in a classroom: lots of English schools are not designed to get you to fluency. They’re designed to have you continue paying for classes.
Think about it. The school continues to make money if you continue to pay for classes. So, they design their programs in such a way that you continue to take classes. They don’t really want you to become fluent.
I’ve seen this a lot. I know teachers who have actually been told by their school that they are progressing through the material too quickly. The students were ready for new material, but the teacher had to slow down because the school didn’t want the students to learn too quickly.
At the end of the day, English schools are businesses. It’s better for them if you do not become fluent. They are designed to make you think you need more classes.
8. It’s expensive
This is the other thing about classes in an English school: they can be expensive. When I was teaching in France, students paid over €60 an hour.
When you take a class at an English school, you’re not just paying for the lessons. You’re also paying for all of the overhead costs—rent for the building, heating, lighting, maintenance costs, support staff, and so on. In my school in France, only about a third of the cost of lessons went to the teachers; the rest went to overhead.
Lessons can cost even more if you are planning to travel to an English-speaking country and live there.
There are lots of cheaper options available, including the subscription we offer at Leonardo English. The benefit of online services is that there is less overhead costs, which means that there are fewer costs passed on to you.
And, of course, there are also lots of free resources available online. Just remember these can be of varying quality. Make sure the resources you use look like they come from a legitimate source.
Serious learners will likely end up investing in learning materials. But they don’t have to be expensive, and certainly not as expensive as English classes.
Don’t learn English in a classroom—do this instead.
The truth is that you don’t learn English by studying it. You learn English by using it.
There are lots of alternatives to English classes. You can listen to podcasts that are appropriate for your level, you can read books about things you’re interested in, you can look up the lyrics to your favourite songs, and so on. Interacting with native speakers on social media is another great strategy.
If you want to get fluent in English, pick some activities that you like and that expose you to English. Try to include some listening, reading, writing, and speaking activities if you can. For example, you can:
- listen to podcasts of native English speakers,
- read news articles,
- write comments on Instagram, and
- Find a native English speaker in a chat room.
If you do those things regularly over a long period of time, you’ll eventually become fluent in English. And you won’t have to pay a teacher like me to do it.