Guillaume felt very frustrated with himself at the beginning of his stay. He thought he wasn’t progressing fast enough, and as a result became increasingly anxious, which made things even worse.
Students often come with very high expectations for an immersion programme in England, and rightly so, because type of course will indeed produce much faster results than a course in their own country. However, they sometimes feel the pressure to progress fast and that might get in the way. By setting realistic goals and determining mechanisms to assess how well they have been achieved, we help students not only meet their expectations, but also perceive clearly their progress.
Yusuke’s main difficulty is with listening comprehension, which he believes stems mainly from his learning experience. Language schools in Japan tend to focus on pronunciation, so his previous experience was mostly listening to slow extracts, with lots of pauses. It was quite a shock when he arrived and tried to understand native people speaking!
Regardless of your nationality, there will always be a shock when you arrive in a foreign country. Not everybody speaks English the way they do on recordings for students, so an initial feeling of having wasted time and money on years of courses is inevitable. The good news is listening tends to be the skill that develops the most in an immersion course, so just hold tight because you will notice improvement in a short time. It’s important not to try to understand every word, though: focus on the words that are pronounced more strongly, which are usually the ones that contain more meaning.
Javier also mentioned listening as an issue, but unlike Yusuke, he struggles to understand non-native speakers. The impression he used to describe his impression is that he has ‘corks in his ears’!
Native speakers may speak more clearly (or not!), but they also tend to speak faster and use higher-level language. Non-natives might speak more slowly, but can mispronounce some words and may have a strong accent, which can make communication troublesome. The best thing to do is practise listening to a wide range of native and non-native accents in different situations (presentations, conversations, etc). It’s also important to think about what nationalities you need to interact with more regularly, and focus more on understanding their accents.
Vittorio finds English grammar particularly challenging, especially regarding sentence structure. He can usually understand a given structure, getting the exercises right, but when he speaks, he keeps making mistakes with it, or doesn’t use it at all. Javier has a similar problem, but with vocabulary: as much as he tries to learn new words, he has difficulty remembering them when he speaks.
There are two important concepts in play here: first, your current understanding and usage of English grammar, which needs to be constantly challenged and reformulated. The other is passive vs active vocabulary. If you can understand a word, but can’t produce it, it is part of your passive vocabulary, and you should be focussing on transferring that to your active vocabulary. The problem is that oral practice on its own doesn’t help much with either of these. When we are speaking, we just don’t have the time to remember how the present perfect continuous is formed or what that fancy word the teacher used in the class was. The solution? Writing! Using language learnt in written form first can bridge that gap between understanding it and being able to produce it orally. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown essay either: write sentences or short paragraphs with a focus on recycling that target language.
We hope that, with these tips, you can jump into the driver’s seat in this bumpy ride, becoming a more autonomous and efficient learner. If you have any other difficulty, post a comment below and we’ll reply, and if you’re considering an immersion course, get in touch!