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FAQs - Questions and Answers about English

Learn English FAQ pages

The most common questions that we get asked are:-

Actually this is often phrased as "I want learn English," and I am always tempted to say "Well you've found it!"

I would just like to point out:
This isn't a question, it's a statement.
It's boring.
You need to be more specific.

This is a better question, but it's huge. So, we've written a whole section on How to improve your English here.

We run several free online sessions, each session stands alone and anyone is free to join us. The closest we get to running a 'course' is the Back to Basics session with Lynne in Second Life, along with our free lessons on the LEO web site.

If you need a bit of hand-holding there is a list of on-line English courses on our Web Resources page.

To start with - No. English is actually an easy language to begin learning because:
it has no genders. Apart from people, all objects are 'neuter', not 'masculine' or 'feminine'. So you say 'it' for such things, and do not need to learn any genders.
it usually has easy verb endings. Apart from a few 'irregular' verbs, verb endings are easy, and hardly change.
adjectives remain the same for all words - there are no different endings to learn.
the singular and plural pronoun 'you' is the same. There is no need to decide whether to use a polite form, or an intimate form.

There's no "have to", but you probably won't be able to progress beyond reasonable proficiency without it. That said, when you begin to learn English, speaking and building up your vocabulary is more important than worrying about correct grammar. However, as you progress you will need to incorporate more grammar into your learning programme.

There is a common impression that learning English grammar is painful, but it is a lot easier than many other languages. Of course, English is more than just memorizing grammar rules, the grammar should be incorporated into your everyday use of the language, theory and practice should go hand in hand.

Think of English vocabulary as the bricks of the language and grammar as the mortar that hold those bricks together, without the mortar the bricks can come tumbling down, and a lack of a basic understanding of grammar can be embarrasing. At an advanced level you should be thinking much more about the correct use of the English language. And eventually you should be able to forget about it all together and start doing what comes naturally.

For more information on English grammar check out our grammar pages.

Generally English grammar is not as difficult as some other languages, such as German. We have the French to thank for that. In 1066 William the Conqueror brought to England the French language as well as the ability to build impressive castles. French was the official language in England for nearly 300 years and so the English language was kept alive by the common people (rather than the academics who do like to keep the status quo). As a result nearly all the difficult word-endings, inflexions and marks of gender and case were gaily dispensed with.

How long is a piece of string? Actually, if I had 1€ for every time I have heard that question I could travel round the world. The answer is, "It varies", it depends on a variety of factors. For instance; your motivation (if you have a gun held to your head I bet you'll learn very quickly), the level of English you wish to acquire, not everyone needs or wants to be fluent in a second language, someone who wants to use English on holiday does not need the same level of English as someone who needs it for business purposes. As a result some people are happy after 1 to 3 years, whilst others might take 4 years, 10 years, or a lifetime! You can't give accurate time frames for learning.

There has been a lot of research done into this area by people a lot cleverer than me, it shows that effective learning is influenced by many factors, some of which are:-

Access to effective teaching and educational materials influence the length of time it takes to learn English.
People vary in abilities, motivation and readiness to learn.
Classes should be tailored to the linguistic, cultural, and academic learning needs of the learner.

The most difficult things about learning English are:-

Spelling and pronunciation - the spelling of a word may not show what the pronunciation is. This is because English words came from many different sources, learn the phonetic spelling sounds and make and use a good dictionary.
False friends - because English came from two main sources - old French, and old Anglo-Saxon, there is a very large vocabulary of words. Watch out for words that seem similar, they may have come from your language and mean the same, these are called cognitives, or they may have different meanings these are false cognitives (false friends).
Idioms - native English speakers use a lot of idioms, that is - words used in a way which is not their obvious meaning. Learn them, but try not to use them in important meetings etc., they can be quite open to misinterpretation. If the people you are talking to suddenly look very shocked you've probably just misused one.

Unfortunately the answer to this question is yes. There are many differences between British and American English, pronunciation, spelling and grammar are just a few. In fact English is the first language in many countries and there are differences between them all, these include; Australia, Canada, Ireland, Jamaica, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA. This site is devoted to British English.

As one of my favourite writers said "We have everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language." (Oscar Wilde, 1887, The Canterville Ghost).

We have written a useful guide to the differences between US and British English here.

You don't expect me to answer that, do you? Actually - it depends. It depends on which English you will be most exposed to. If you are moving to the US then learn American English, if you're going to work for a British company then learn British English. And don't forget there are many different kinds of English and the rising star of International English.

If you have a brain, you're off to a good start. Along with that and the willingness to use it you will need the following:-

Time - practise your English every day, listening, writing, speaking or reading, or even better - doing all four things.
Patience - do not give up, learning a language can be a long process, but don't panic like most long journeys, you will get there in the end.
A sense of humour - learning English should be fun, so have fun!
A vocabulary notebook - write down new words in a notebook. Don't translate them, but write the new word into context in a meaningful sentence.
A good English dictionary - not a Translate to English dictionary, but a real English dictionary. Look up the meaning of new words in your dictionary first, this will help you build your vocabulary.

Regularly. There are a couple of other things that will help:-

Having a good English teacher or an English speaking friend is always going to help, you can learn English through books and tapes but books and tapes can't answer questions or help when you are stuck.
People to practice with. You are learning a language and language is about communicating, not filling in gaps or ticking boxes. So, get together with other people who are interested in learning / practising / helping others to learn English, it increases the fun and reduces the frustration. Join or start an English club or join a book reading club, if you can't find one in your area set one up or join the BBCs on-line book group.
We have included a whole section on this here.

Watching films (or movies) is a great way to help you improve your English. It is best if you have some knowledge of English, but DVDs can really help. I recommend my intermediate to advanced students to watch DVDs in the following way:-

Make sure the DVD has the film or programme in English with your native language, both as the spoken word (dubbed) and, if possible, with sub-titles. Always check on the back of the DVD.
If you can bear to, try to watch the DVD all the way through in English only (no sub-titles).
Watching films should be enjoyable, so if you are really struggling, watch it (scene by scene) in English with English sub-titles. Repeat scenes as necessary.
If that's too much of a chore, watch it in your language all the way through with English sub-titles.
If you aren't sick to death of it yet watch it again in English all the way through with no sub-titles.
As you watch the film scene by scene make a note of the main new vocabulary, especially new phrases.

We love English and want to share our enjoyment of it. We know we could do that and still charge for it, but so much of the information available on the Internet is given on a voluntary basis. The people who put it there know that they will be able to obtain information in the same way when they need it. The golden rule works and what is good for others turns out to be good for the individual.

Believe us, we are not against making money, but we think that if you just want to make money then you're in the wrong job. Learn English will never pay us as much as conventional teaching, but somehow every penny we earn here means more to us than an hourly rate. People give whatever they can afford, people sponsor us because they like the site and want to support it and we like that.

All in all we find the Internet to be like most other communities, you get out what you put in.

Probably.

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