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It’s easy to decide from the start that you ‘want it all’, in anything, not only English learning, and I’m not going to dissuade you from this. Go for it all, that is the way to get the most out of everything. But what I am going to say here, is that in fact to get it all, you really do need to have a great starting point. That starting point is knowing exactly where you are at.
Knowing where you are at can come in many ways:
- Doing a placement test and finding out the specific level
- Doing an online test and see where you are at
- Throwing yourself into an English speaking situation and seeing how you survive or don’t survive.
The first two are quite straight forward and are good for the school to help you so they put you in the right starting level, but really you are seldom given a good reason that you understand at that point as to why this mark means this level. It is after this which is where you will need to become sensitive to your strengths and weaknesses.
The most common weakness that ESL students have is that they say they just don’t know the vocabulary, and ‘want more vocabulary’. I’m not going to disagree with this, as vocabulary is very important, but one thing I will say is that vocabulary can be learned by yourself, using a dictionary and simply asking someone on a regular basis.
The best recommendation I have is that you as an ESL student need to be able to listen to yourself on a weekly basis and try to give yourself something different to focus on. Once you can identify something that you can practice, you will notice a small shift over time. It is the accumulation of these small shifts that will grow into a mountain of success. There won’t be any one or two things that you can focus on it should change over time.
Here are some sensitivities that you may notice:
WEEK 1: I notice that I don’t have confidence in greeting people
WEEK 2: I notice my pronunciation of the ‘b and p’ needs practicing
WEEK 3: I notice I’m not sure about when to use ‘the or a’
WEEK 4: I notice my confidence goes down when I have to speak in full sentences
WEEK 5: I notice the present perfect tense is confusing me a bit
WEEK 6: …and so on.
Every one of these things you notice, are you being sensitive to your needs. Each one requires some clarification from others or your teacher.
Your teacher will probably notice these things too about you, but she/he has 20 other students in the class to also notice, so if you are sensitive to your own needs too – you will move yourself further forward at a faster rate.