Language (or any) learning works in a number of phases. In this blog I explain how this works and how to work out which phase you are in. This will help you minimise frustration when you learn English and hopefully stop you giving up when the going gets tough. Read on to find out which phase of learning English you are in.
The 4 phases of language learning
These phases are true of any learning process, but I’ve worked out what happens when you’re learning English. I’ve seen these reactions with hundreds of clients.
Phase 1: The Ignorance is bliss phase
If you don’t know you don’t know something, there’s no frustration. I call this the ignorance is bliss phase (that’s a standard phase which means sometimes it’s better not to know something). If you were at that phase in English, you couldn’t read this article. And you probably wouldn’t even want to.
What’s the fuss about?
Sometimes people in this phase don’t get what all the fuss is about, when people talk about English. They say things like: “I can make myself understood, that’s enough” and “What content is what matters, not how you say it
This misses the fact that English is all about HOW you say something.
Phase 2: Discovery phase
After that, you go into the consciously incompetent phase. Then you know you don’t know something and need support to improve. In this phase you’re often learning English from someone who speaks your language, so they can explain things to you in a way you understand. Learning something new is often confusing but often exciting as well. So, I call this phase the discovery phase.
Phase 2: What you do with English in the Discovery phase
Inside your brain, you are constanly laying down new neural pathways when you learn new things. You need these pathways to be able to remember things and repeat them later. The older you are, the longer this process can take physically. However, when you’re older, you also know your own instruction manual better, so that can really help.
Decision time for your English
In this phase you are unlikely to have plans to use English for your business very soon or you have realised that you really need to improve your English, before you can use it successfully.
There is no such thing as one kind of English. So, even if you use international words, you still have to make a choice which English your company is going to use. Find out if you should use US or UK English for your business.
Phase 3: Headache phase
From there you start moving into the consciously competent phase. In this phase, you start to be able to use words, phrases and grammar in a correct way. The only thing is that you’re working hard. You may be having lessons from a native speaker, or someone who speaks your language and is really good at English.
Motivation is the big issue in this phase, which I call the headache phase. This is the time you may start to doubt yourself and feel like giving up.
Phase3: What you do with English in the Headache phase
If you have your own business, you might have concrete plans for using English in your business in this phase. But, if you don’t realise you’re in the frustration phase, you could decide you need to concentrate on your own language instead. That might be because of the effort it’s taking or because of cash flow pressures. My advice: make sure you’re making that decision for the right reasons.
The move from Phase 3 to Phase 4: the big shift
At the start of this phase, you will probably be translating from your own language when you write and/or speak. By the end of this phase, that will have stopped (unless it’s something really complex or stressful). Making this switch will really improve your confidence in speaking English.
Phase 4: Chill phase
The final learning phase is where you are unconsciously competent. This means that you can do things automatically. You have automated words, phrases and grammar in your brain, so you can use them without having to think through every step before you open your mouth.
Chill phase is not just for native speakers
You don’t have to be a native speaker to be at this level. This is achievable for most people. If you could do this in your own language, you can do this in another language – it’s a matter of how long it takes for you. In this phase you can relax and enjoy speaking and writing English.
Phase 4: What you’re doing with English in the Chill phase
You might already be working in English in this phase, maybe in a mix with your own language. You can easily write your own texts and are (pretty) happy being visible in English. For you, this phase is about increasing your ability to say exactly what you want to say in the way you want to say it.
What to look out for in an English teacher in the different phases
You need different techniques and support at different levels to make best use of resources.
Best way to learn English in the Discovery phase
In the Discovery phase, you can learn from a speaker of your own language. Of course, a native speaker has advantages, but a good English speaker who also speaks your language, will be a lot of help to you too. Just make sure they speak up to date English.
Discovery phase: focus on a solid foundation
In this phase focus on general English, learning words, phases and spelling and really understanding how the grammar works. I also advise you to work on how you say words and letters. Focus on laying a good foundation in this phase.
In the headache phase confidence and motivation are key. Confidence also increases your motivation, so it’s important to keep practising and to get support when you’re learning. Practising with something you’ll need for your business can be a big help with your motivation too.
Headache phase: focus on self-confidence and practise
General English lessons can help at the start of this phase, but by the end, you’ll really need to learn from someone, who can take you further. It’s preferable to learn from a native speaker or at least from someone who speaks excellent English.
In the chill phase it’s important to focus on refining your speaking and writing to support you in meeting your aims. It’s important to be clear about what you want to achieve and to work with someone who can help you with those aims. You’re no longer in general English lesson territory.
Chill phase: focus on your business needs
You should absolutely be learning from a native speaker who understands your business at this level.
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