Not only can learning English be fun; it should be fun.
I’m always amazed when students think learning only takes place when lessons are too difficult or boring. In fact, during my years of teaching both in the classroom and on italki, I’ve found the exact opposite is true: when English students enjoy themselves, they learn a lot more and faster than when they don’t enjoy themselves.
So what do we mean by fun? First, let’s see what we don’t mean. If you’re an adult ESL student, fun should not be silly or childish. Fun does not mean playing language games that make you feel stupid. And, having fun during language lessons doesn’t mean you’re laughing all the time; that would mean the language lessons are funny -- not fun. Laughing all the time during lessons is good if you’re training to become a comedian, but it won’t help you learn English.
A fun English lesson is one that you feel good about. You look forward to taking the next one. Time goes fast during a fun lesson, sometimes too fast. If you’re looking at your watch every five minutes, the lesson is probably not fun. At the same time, English involves hard work. Remember your ESL teacher is a teacher, not an entertainer. But, you should feel like the class was a good class.
Here are ways to make your lessons more fun and productive:
Schedule a lesson when you’re not too tired
Of course, your job, family or university studies are your priority. But, try to schedule your italki lessons when you have enough energy. Find a teacher whose schedule can accommodate you -- even if it takes a little looking around to find the right one.
Take lessons with a teacher you like
You will know after the first lesson if you and your teacher are a good match. If after the first lesson you are not sure, try another trial lesson with a different teacher. It’s a good idea to try different teachers!
Take charge of your own learning
Even as a beginning ESL student, you can tell the teacher what and how you want to learn. My favorite kind of student is the one who comes in (or online) and says, “Can we do this?” If you don’t do anything but just sit there and answer questions, the teacher will have to do everything and the lesson won’t be fun for either of you.
Close the textbook
While some beginning students do need a textbook, there’s no law that says you have to use one. There are so many authentic (real) ways of learning English, such as newspaper articles online, videos, images to explain new vocabulary and many other ways I’m sure you can think of. Learning to speak a language doesn’t mean just listening and reading; it’s living the language through real things.
Get a little personal
Go ahead, ask your teacher some questions, not just about grammar and pronunciation, but things about his or her life. Believe me, your teacher will be happy. And don’t worry. If you ask something your teacher doesn’t want to talk about, you’ll be told. But, when ask your teacher questions, it not only helps your English, it strengthens the bond between you. After all, your teacher asks plenty about you, right? Make part of your lesson into a good conversation and the lesson will be much more enjoyable.
(and this may be the most important tip of all) Laugh at your teacher’s jokes. What if you don’t understand what it means, or if it’s even a joke at all? Ask. A clue that your teacher is making a joke is if she is laughing herself. So, go ahead and laugh with her. At this point, you may not even know what’s funny. But, laugh anyway because laughing is ... fun!
Ilene Springer is an italki teacher from the US, and often wonders why students laugh when she hasn’t made a joke.