Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Bettina, a woman who is learning English just like you.
I have never actually met her in person but I conciser her a friend and was curious to ask her some questions about her experiences learning English.
So I'll let her introduce herself and get things rolling.
Hi Diana, To be honest, I don't feel very comfortable introducing myself (privacy and the internet) but I will be courteous and make it snappy (be quick about it).
My name is Bettina and I'm German. I've been living in France for many years now and I'm working hard to learn English.
2) We first met online when you purchased my eCourse, "5 Simple Steps to Better Writing" and you had some really great things to say about it. Could you tell me what makes the course so special and useful for you?
Bettina: First of all, I was surprised that I appreciated this kind of book so much. Above all, I was curious when I read that it comes with a free audiobook.
What makes it so special is the fact that I could read it without getting bored. I had expected it would be one of these grammar books that I don't like.
Please don't get my wrong. It's my personal opinion and I respect and even admire people who like studying grammar books. Generally grammar books aren't my cup of tea.
The eCourse "5 Simple Steps to Better Writing" was different.
Obviously there were some grammar rules but I had the feeling that I was receiving some very precious advice. The fact that it included some nice stories was also very pleasant and unusual. You talked about some funny experiences and that really gave this book a personal touch.
Let me explain. Through these private stories I felt like I knew you as if you were a friend who would like to help me. I was very touched by this aspect.
I discovered a lot of new vocabulary, such as “proofreading” for example which I found very useful. Some of these new words were repeated several times and I noticed that they went easily in my mind.
To make a long story short, I was captivated by this method and I enjoy following the advice everyday. This new experience was completely new and I feel that it'll guide me on my way to raise my English knowledge!
3) You are now a very active member of The Learn English Corner- LEC, but it hasn't always been that way. What changed and how did you go from shy and quiet to being one of the most active members?
Bettina: When I became a member of the LEC, I needed a few days to look around. I felt lost and I remember that I asked you often to explain how to use the LEC efficiently and you added videos and explications with details.
Bit by bit it became easier. I wrote some sentences almost every day, not without difficulties, but I received some comments from time to time and it was a nice feeling to communicate with people .
Then I had some friend requests from members who would be my friends. I subscribed on June 8th 2010 and today I have a lot of really great friends. I feel very close to them. It's unbelievable that after only seven months my writing has become so much better. Sometimes my comments are even too long ! I simply noticed that I was surrounded by people who shared their willingness to ameliorate their English. (Bettina just taught me a new word... ameliorate: to make a bad or unpleasant situation better.)
After a few weeks I felt free to practice. But not only that, no, I noticed that I made some progress as well. I had a lot of fun reading blog posts. They inspired me to leave comments. I enjoyed looking for the right words to express my feelings. By doing so every day my self-confidence grows; I feel relaxed and always have a great time. I don't feel stressed anymore.
The fact that I dare to write a lot for this interview now allows me to encourage new members. Actually, I'm not afraid anymore to make mistakes and I would like to share this. You see, I can't stop talking about the LEC. It has become a part of my life. I don't say that to flatter you Diana, but you do a really great job and you're always there when someone needs your help.
4) Some people argue that online environments like LEC (which focus on writing) do not help learners improve because members are not always corrected when they make mistakes? What do you think about this?
Bettina: I don't agree with this theory. I don't think that it's helpful to be corrected every time either. It would had prevent me from loosing my fear.
Imagine that you're corrected all the time and that your mistakes are underlined. How can you enjoy writing if someone points out your faults? As far as I'm concerned I wouldn't have continued to practice my writing anymore.
You might ask yourself why my writing has become better in such a short time if there was no correction? Great question. My motivation on the LEC inspires me to read a lot. When I'm reading a book I picture words (take a photo in my brain). I know how I've to write them correctly.
Reading, writing and listening has to come together. You can't separate these important elements. The most important thing when you're learning English is to look for subjects you're passionate about. Without passion, inspiration and motivation you have no fun and then you get bored and you'll give up.
There is no miraculous solution. English learning takes a lot of time. You can't rush and you have to be patient. Don't be sorry about all you haven't learned yet, be pleased for all the knowledge you have already acquired. At least that's my point of view.
5) There is a lot of controversy over the "best way to learn English" and I was wondering what your thoughts are? Is there a particular method that works for everyone or is it not that simple?
Bettina: I don't think that there is a particular method for everyone. We're all different and what works for me won't systematically work for another person. Each of us has to find out what's the best method for him.
I know that some of our members are passionate about studying grammar and vocabulary, others are watching movies or they are listening to their favorite songs after they had read the lyrics. Luckily the internet offers a great choice of quite different methods for everyone. I can always suggest checking out my favorite methods but the most important is to respect the choice of everyone.
The fact that you don't agree with a method wouldn't say that you're right! Enjoy the great diversity and keep an open mind. By the way, on the LEC we respect each other even if we haven't always the same opinion.
6) Why are you learning English?
Bettina: English is an international language and most people use it to communicate which each other. That's a fact but frankly it wasn't the main reason for me.
Above all, I wanted to watch movies in their original version but I don't like to read subtitles. It prevents me from concentrating on the action. I also wanted to understand English songs, interviews like "Actor Studio" for example. I didn't even wish to know how to write or to to speak, I wanted simply to understand!
7) I believe that our attitude plays a huge role in our ability to speak fluently and also to absorb new information (vocabulary, expressions etc). What has your experience shown you regarding positive and negative attitudes related to learning English?
Bettina: Again, I insist that we have to practice. Learning to speak fluently in my opinion means reading, listening and repeating. Listen to the most you can to whatever you want; it might be movies, podcasts or even audio books, but you have to pay attention so that it's not too difficult.
If you can't understand a single word you will never learn. You will be discouraged and give up. You have to at least understand the global meaning of the content. It's the same when you're reading a book. Don't chose one that is too difficult. Obviously, I'm not talking about people who go on language study holidays or those who by chance will spend a long time abroad!
Indeed, I've had some positive and negative experiences. I haven't repeated sentences out loud. That's essential! I'm always reading silently as well and I'm sure that's the reason why I don't feel comfortable when I'm speaking.
My positive experiences are my regularly activity on the LEC, listening to podcasts and audiobooks, watching videos, listening to songs which I really love and my strong attention to choose only activities I like to do.
There are so many different offers to help you learning online that it's important to sort out the best for you. You'll easily loose yourself if your have subscribed at too many places. It's better to be totally active on one or two places. That's the reason why I have become so familiar with the LEC.
8) Why are you afraid to make mistakes in English? What goes through your mind when you make mistakes? Are they really that important? How can someone eliminate this fear of making mistakes?
Bettina: That's a good question! Adults generally are afraid and ashamed when they make mistakes. Unfortunately that doesn't get us anywhere. Kids haven't this worry and that's why they are learning faster. They don't mind and they are even learning by their mistakes. No kid will get discouraged to speak when her(his) mum corrects her(him). They will repeat it and try it again all the time.
We can hardly change our bad attitude to be frustrated by making mistakes.
I dare say that I'm currently not shy anymore and not afraid to make mistakes either. That's thanks to the LEC members who let me feel strong. They complemented and encouraged me truly. Suddenly, I knew that there is no reason to be shy and that faults aren't that important.
Being a part of a community where everybody is in the same situation opened my eyes and it was one of the most important lessons I have ever learned. The day I got this in my mind I made good progress. Now, I think it's my turn to encourage all learners who have no self confidence.
I've got problems speaking and I know that's my fault. As I mentioned before I don't follow the advice to practice my speaking out loud. Once more you, Diana and some LEC friends gave me a hand by creating a group where everyone can record voice messages. I let them know that I don't like hearing my voice and that I was stressed. The words slip out of my mind.
Then I decided not to leave voice messages anymore but simply listening to their records.
Once more members helped my to get over my fear. They made me react and my desire to reply became stronger than my shame. After some encouragements and complements, I feel motivated and I even have fun practicing. I'm sure that I've found the way to practice my speaking regularly thanks to my LEC friends!
9) What activities or methods have helped you improve your English the most?
Bettina: Your book , my regular activity on the LEC, listening to podcasts and audiobooks, watching videos, listening to songs which I really love and reading books and all kind of entertaining articles.
No matter what activity or method it is, it has to be a pleasure. I always read books that are related to my passions and it's incredible how well it works. It's stimulating and it gives me energy.
What a nice feeling when you can listen to interviews of people you admire. When you understand the content of a book that is talking about one of your favorite topics! You really feel on cloud nine!
10) What tips or tricks can you offer to other English learners Bettina? How do you improve your listening skills? Is grammar the most important aspect of a language?
Bettina: I think I would be rich if I could offer tips and tricks to learn faster. Concerning my method to improve my listening skills I've already answered.
My thoughts about grammar? That's a tricky question and I wouldn't influence or hurt anyone. Obviously I have my personal opinion about the importance of grammar. I've learned a foreign language without studying grammar books.
By the way, I think that we never finish learning a language. Even native speakers continue to learn new vocabulary and expressions regularly. I learned French in the same way as kids usually do. By listening, repeating and finally speaking. I think it was very important for me to learn in this way. Grammar study prevents me from enjoying learning.
Nonetheless, once you notice that your English has becoming better and you have great fun then you might develop the desire to look for grammar. It will become a natural curiosity. Young kids learn grammar when they go to school. They already speak their native language. This is once more my personal opinion that I built though experience.
There is something important I would like to add. I'm convinced that it's much more helpful to use an English dictionary that explains the vocabulary you are looking for in English. I avoid translations. It's only when there is no way to understand the meaning I use a French -English dictionary. I would like to think in English without translation.
I'm also the happy owner of a Thesaurus. I've always my nose in it. It's awesome to look for new words with similar meanings! I'm convinced that soon my poor vocabulary will grow.
11) You started a group on LEC called "Useful Learning English Podcasts". Are these podcasts made for ESL learners or are they made by and for native English speakers? In your opinion Bettina, which type of podcasts are better?
Bettina: A lot of people don't even know what a podcast is. Please let me tell you my little story of podcasts.
By a stroke of luck, a good friend of mine told me that he was watching the news on video podcasts. You have to know that he hasn't TV at home. I was curious to know what it is. I hadn't ever heard the word “podcast” before in my life. He suggested that I have a look in the iTunes Store.
I discovered a great number of all kinds of different podcasts. By chance I saw the education section and it led my to the language learning section. I was impressed to see the amount of free podcasts that teach you all kinds of different foreign languages.
Obviously, I looked for English learning podcasts. Again it was by chance that I chose the one that let me want to try. That's when my adventure started!
I'm a hug fan of audio and video podcasts, preferably audio podcasts. It's only a question of availability. It's easier to find moments where you can listen than watching. A lot of my work allows me to listen with concentration but not to watch, even if there are some very excellent video podcasts!
By the way, it's useful to get the transcript but there will come a time when you have to listen without reading it!
The type of podcast to choose depends your English level. I suggest to begin with podcasts made by native speakers for English learners. You'll waste your time if you are listening to native speakers without understanding what they are talking about.
Personally I don't like the kind of podcasts where people are speaking too slowly. I've always preferred the normal speech. When your listening and comprehension skills have grown you can listen to podcasts made for native speakers.
Trust me, when I began for the first time to listen to them, it blew me away. It was amazing. Actually, I'm listening to both of them with pleasure.
12) If I could solve one problem or need that you have Bettina, what would it be? For example: some people mention that they don't know any native speakers so they can't listen or speak to someone who has a good grasp of English. In that situation I could create hours of natural and real English audio to solve that need. What about you Bettina?
Bettina: Honestly, I have no idea! For instance, I'm glad to say that I don't need anything. You've done everything by creating the LEC! Now it's my turn to keep on being passionate. It's all in my hands! Thank you for your offer. I'll never hesitate to tell you if I need help.
Concerning the examples you mention I have to admit that I don't understand their problem.
Thanks to the internet you can listen all the day long for free to native speakers and I'm sure you'll even find some native speakers who would like to talk with English learners as well. What about spending holidays in a county where people speak English, for all those who can make the financial effort to travel.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions Bettina. You raised some very good points and your advice will help thousands of English learners all over the world.
Bettina: It was a pleasure. Thank you for asking me for my opinion! I hope that it'll be helpful and I wish good luck and a lot of fun to everyone who would like to learn English!
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