10,000 hours of English

Being a teacher of English, I deal with piles of course books on a daily basis. The course books are really engaging these days (hats off to the authors!) and I inevitably draw a lot of inspiration from them. Sometimes a single sentence can start a long train of thought. In this post, I want to give you an example of one such train.

Lesson 9A in English File Intermediate (Third Edition) centers around the topic of luck. In this lesson the students read a text called ‘A question of luck?’ which explains why certain people become extraordinarily successful and what factors contribute to their success. Have a look at the final paragraph of the text:

I don’t know about the specific number – 10,000 hours – but the theory makes a lot of sense for language learning.

When deciding to embark on a wonderful journey of learning English, many students pin their hopes on the teacher (after all, it’s a qualified and experienced professional) and the course book (after all, it was written by a team of qualified and experienced professionals). Unfortunately, just going to classes and following a course book is not enough. You do need to put in a lot of extra hours to become a successful language learner.

(Oh, don’t give me the old excuse of having very little free time. It’s lame. And you know it.)

I now want to talk about how you can (and should) effortlessly increase the amount of time you spend on English.

We’ll need to do a little math here. Let’s say you have English classes 2 times a week and each class is 1,5 hours long. That’s 3 hours of English a week. If you don’t do anything else – that’s just 3 for you. However, you can (and should) do the following:

  • Do your homework. That’s at least 1 hour per week. I love giving my students ‘enormous’ (in their words) homework. That’s at least 1-2 hours more. Add: 3 hours.

When I say 1 hour, I mean doing the bare minimum – your workbook exercises. The ‘enormous’ homework I give usually involves learning things by heart, retelling, preparing talks and/or writing.

  • Start your day with a TED talk. These are short – 15 minutes on average, which gives you around 2 hours more per week if you start every day from listening to a TED talk. Add: 2 hours. 

TED talks are great, I love them. They are short, professional and there are a myriad of them on any topic. All of them are downloadable and are accompanied by an interactive transcript. I share links to my favorite talks on my social media profiles: facebookgoogle+ and vk

  • Read or listen to something in English on your way to work / school. Read a book if you go by metro or listen to an audio book if you go by car. Optimistically speaking, your way to work takes 30 minutes, multiply it by 2 and then by 5. Add: 5 hours. 

At this point you might be itching to say that reading books in English is hard. But you are in luck – it doesn’t have to be! There are literary hundreds of abridged books for all levels – from Beginner to Advanced. All major publishers of educational materials for ELT have such series – MacmillanOxford, Longman. All of these books are accompanied by CDs. You see, reading in English can be easy and enjoyable. 

  • Watch a series and/or a film in English. Most episodes of most series are only 20 minutes long, but let’s say you pause from time to time to check vocabulary, so it’s 30 minutes. One episode each day multiplied by 5 working days gives you 2,5 hours. At the weekend, watch a film. Add: 4,5 hours. 

Again, if you are itching to say that watching films in the original is challenging, I have a couple of counter-arguments at hand. First off, most films and series show everyday life and are therefore quite simple. If they are not, start from watching them with subtitles (English, of course) and move on to switching them off later. Or, watch something you’ve already seen in your own language. This way you won’t have to focus on understanding what’s happening and will be able to concentrate on the language. 

  • Do a little extra speaking. Find an English-speaking partner online, speak to your friends, join a Speaking Club. Add:1,5 hours.

There are plenty of websites that give you an opportunity to find teachers and learners of English from all over the world. Some of my students allocate time to speaking English with their friends just for extra practice. As for Speaking Clubs, finding one to join won’t be a problem as most language schools have them nowadays. 

  • Let’s throw in an additional hour for times when you check some vocabulary and/or make notes. Add: 1 hour.

Let’s add all the hours now, shall we? 17 additional hours of English! Plus 3 hours of classes with a teacher. Combined, they total 20 hours of English a week!

It is overwhelmingly obvious that students who put in 20 hours of English a week will be more successful than those who put in just 3. The extra hours – tens turning into hundreds, hundreds turning into thousands – work wonders!

This concludes my train of thought. I hope you inevitably drew some inspiration from it!

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