5 English Lessons You Can’t Get In School

Studying Most of us have been to school, and at school we had to take language classes. In many countries, students are required to take English lessons in particular. My high school in the United States offered classes in Latin, French, German, Spanish and Japanese. I chose Spanish. In fact, I studied Spanish for 3 years in high school, and 3 years at university. In these classes, I memorized vocabulary and I did written exercises from a book to practice grammar and sentence structure. In class, we had exams and quizzes, and sometimes we did a speaking exercise with a fellow student. But at the end of my studies, I was definitely NOT fluent in Spanish! I, like so many other language students, assumed I just wasn’t cut out to learn a second language. But the truth is, I had never heard a native speaker, and I had never been taken out of my familiar native language environment!

When I moved to France a few years later, I was a true beginner. I had never heard French spoken before, and I had never taken any classes. And a funny thing started to happen. Even though I could not understand the words people were saying in French, I could still understand their feeling. You can feel and hear someone’s feelings by watching their body language, and listening to the volume and tone of their voice. The expression on their face and the speed with which they speak are also clues as to how someone feels. And when you understand how someone feels, you can guess what they want to say, even if you don’t know all the words. And your brain makes a connection between these feelings and the words that are associated with them. This is called learning! After only six months in France, I began to understand sentences and have simple conversations with locals. After one year, I was self sufficient, and began to receive compliments on my language level. It seemed like nothing short of a miracle to me–who couldn’t speak Spanish after six years of study!

Most English students try to improve their English by memorizing vocabulary and doing written grammar exercises, and then actually punishing themselves or feeling upset when they can’t remember everything perfectly ! The truth is, our brain needs to link an experience with new information so that we can remember it.

Traveling and speaking with native speakers is by far the absolute best way to improve any language, including English! And with so many different types of English spoken today, from Australia to India to Scotland, you have a lot to learn!


Here are 5 Vital Lessons You Won’t Get In School :

stock-footage-two-female-friends-chatting-in-restaurant-outdoors-camera-stabilizer-shotDialect or Accent.
English is a very rich language that can be heard all over the world. The English accent that can be heard in London, England is quite different from what you would hear in Dublin, Ireland. Likewise with the accent from New York City and that of Austin, Texas. Spending time with native speakers will help you understand the same words spoken with different dialects. By modeling your own pronunciation after what you hear, you will find your own voice or “accent” in English,  correctly!

(photo: www.shutterstock.com)


Brian-ReadeIntonation and Word Stress.  English uses word stress and common intonations to express the most important parts of a sentence or conversation. These two elements are key to understanding someone in another language, especially when you aren’t fluent. When you hear these intonations many times and begin to mimic them, you will soon sound like a native speaker!

(photo: www.mirror.co.uk)

bar-friendsSlang and Expressions. Slang can be some of the richest and most fun parts of speaking a second language. Unfortuantely slang isn’t often taught in school, and it expresses a lot more meaning when it is used in the heat of the moment. Typical expressions are another part of language that is commonly spoken in everyday life by native speakers, but this is one of the most difficult elements of a second language to learn in a classroom.   When you hear a native speaker use an expression you don’t understand, you can use the context of the situation to guess its meaning. Slang and expressions are about living in the moment, and experiencing the language you are learning.

(photo: www.ivernesshotel.com)

festival1Cultural Influences. Many people believe that our native language influences the way we see the world. We can observe this through typical word groups and expressions that are used in different parts of the world, which can sometimes reflect a way of life. For example, if you are learning Japanese, it would be difficult to truly grasp the essence of the language without knowing a little about the culture it is linked with. Language and culture are inseparable, and the best way to acquire them are by meeting native speakers and learning about their lives.

(photo: www.blackartblog.blackartdepot.com)

670px-Ask-for-Directions-Step-4Survival Instinct. When we attempt to communicate with someone who does not speak our native language, we begin to learn a lot about ourselves and our capacity to communicate. Often a nonverbal form of communication will supplement any lack in vocabulary, and you will have to rely on your own creativity when you are traveling or need information quickly! When this happens, our brains are awake and open, stimulated and searching for information to fill in the gaps. In these situations where our limits of communication are tested, we learn quickly and easily, and we get a sense of achievement!

Many language schools, like Speak English Center, use only teachers who are native speakers, and try to immerse students in culture and language through music and play. But some adult English students often feel they need to do written language exercises, and don’t take the concept of learning through experience seriously. What about you? Have you ever taken formal English lessons that you felt were not effective? Why was this?

Have you ever learned a language from a native speaker?

Leave your comments in the box, we would love to know what you think!



April is an e-marketing specialist, English instructor and freelance writer living in Grenoble, France.
  1. Sandra Reply

    I do agree that language is more than words. At school I was taught French and German, and like yourself I did not have any native speakers of these languages around me other than the teacher. It was difficult to grasp some concepts of appropriate language in differing situations. Today I would like to think that our teaching methodologies have move away from this type of “teaching”. Life experiences can be more readily available through video,DVD and UTube and class excursions to different places within the community are easily arranged. It is important to provide the learner with a range of learning strategies as we all have preferred methods of learning. Stress and intonation are crucial to understanding cultural concepts as you have mentioned. My students do like to learn grammar, but I agree it only has meaning in the bigger picture. Grammar is only one part of the puzzle. Thank goodness for technology and the learning potential it provides.

    • admin Reply

      Thanks for your feedback Sandra. It’s a pleasure to see that teachers today are moving in that “hands on” mentality but now the issue is how are we going to bring life experiences into a classroom. Some teachers are faced with classes as large as 30 (or more) students. Can a language be taught in these conditions?

  2. Hesiona Reply

    It’s really very nice article. Native speakers… I’m a Central Europian, living in a small town, a distant student doing her best to finish her university studies and finally find a job. And I’m not the only one in such a situation. Where can we find those native speakers you are speaking about? Having three children, I have no money for traveling or working longer time in a foreign country. I desperatelly need to spend a few months somewhere among English speaking people. But how to do it? It’s not so easy. 🙁

  3. Cary Reply

    (Before you begin, let me state my origins: British, but not by choice)
    In sharp contrast with the highly didactic grammar-based French and Latin lessons I “endured” at school, I learnt all my other languages from non-teachers. (Note here: my dear, well-intentioned masters at school actually equipped me with some tools to learn languages .. bless them – R.I.P. Speedy Thompson, A.E. Gordon, A.H. Nash-Williams, Andy Bevan, Dennis Woods). I became proficient in Portuguese (Northern Portuguese, the equivalent of which might be Scouse in the U.K.), heartfelt thanks to the many Portuguese people who tolerated my mangled pronunciation and hideous grammar. Unwittingly, I uttered some shockingly bad swear words in all the wrong places, simply because I had picked them up in the street(s)!
    I learnt a certain amount of German from my first wife and her family. It began with a rather strange form known as “Ladbacher Platt” a Rhenish dialect spoken around Moenchengladbach. Then, I added some “Hezzische Gebabbel”, from living in Hesse for a few years. To complicate matters even more, I moved to Wilhelmshaven, and picked up Plattdeutsch there – in the end, a sheer nightmare for purists.
    My Italian is Romanaccia (the apparent misspelling is intentional) from living in Campo de’ Fiori, central Rome. A sort of “Cockney” version of Italian.
    So, as a bloke from the Mongrel Breed, I have gone on to extend my native tendencies as a gipsy or tinker, with hopelessly bad “communication” in a couple of languages..

  4. Susan Brodar Reply

    I TOTALLY AGREE, based on my personal experience!

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