How can I overcome a learning blockade?

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Sophia Ha
Bilingual Newbie
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Registriert: 29. Aug 2019 16:00
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How can I overcome a learning blockade?

Beitrag von Sophia Ha » 29. Aug 2019 16:20

Hello everyone,

my question is pointing out my problem, I think. But to elaborate it, I’ll write something about my journey with the English language:
I’ve been learning English since the five grade in school, and although I learned British English there I tend using American English for some reason. To be more specific, I had a level of A2 at the end of High School, which was after 13 grades. I didn’t learn there much, and I hadn’t had any intrinsic motivation to do so. This was the main problem that I’ve been neglected learning English so much. After Hight School I went to university, and of course I need English there, especially because I’m studying a scientific major. I’m expected to speak English at B2 level as the Abitur indicates that. But the truth is that I don’t speak it nearly at this level. Currently, I have semester holidays, and I’m learing English much – grammer, spelling, tenses, listening comprehension, reading, and even speaking (only to myself though). I think I’ve already improved a lot when I’m comparing my command of English to my skills three months ago. I guess I mastered the basics of English, even though I still forget to add a „s“ for he/she/it, or mix up the tenses sometimes. For that, I think, practice makes perfect.  :D   Though I noticed that I can’t grasp sentences completly, although I know all vocabularies of it. Isn’t that strange? Words do have ambigious meanings, and isn’t it utopical to know them all? I can’t even read a simple English book without looking up many words. Futhermore, I don’t want to mention that I have tough times to understand them. I have to read really slowly what takes out the fun of reading. Moreover, there are numerous phrasel verbs, which I just can’t learn all or memorize because they are very similar. I feel like that I can’t improve my English anymore. That there is something that holds me back leaning new vocabularies, idioms, and so on. Is here anyone who can relate? Currently I’m really demotivated, and have no idea how I can overcome this. Should I take a break of learning English for a while, or just carry on? Do you guys have some ideas how „to solve“ this situation? Maybe I overlook something. And I don’t want to come off wrong, of course speaking a foreign language like the mother tongue is kind of impossible. Exceptions confirm the rule though. But somehow this is my destination, just speaking naturally without thinking much, especially in terms of tenses and phrasel verbs as well as idioms. Unfortunately, living in a English speaking country is currently not possible.
I’m looking forward for any tips you guys have for me. You can suspect my English level through this text, I guess. I didn’t look something up, but it took me some time to write it, and I guess I shouldn't mention how many times I’ve rephrased some sentences. :spin:
 
PS: this is my first "text" in a forum at all, so if I've done anything wrong please correct me!




Schuyler
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Registriert: 1. Mai 2015 01:40
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Re: How can I overcome a learning blockade?

Beitrag von Schuyler » 30. Aug 2019 06:55

Hello, Sophia!

First of all, I want to say that judging by your post, your English is not too bad at all. I see some mistakes, but most are minor and what you mean to say is clear. It seems like you have grasped the basics fairly well already, and indeed, practice makes perfect! I think a lot of the problems you are having right now will likely go away if you just keep practicing whenever you have the chance, both actively (writing and speaking) and passively (reading and listening). Try to identify which part(s) you are struggling with the most and focus on improving those skills specifically.



Since you mentioned that you have trouble with reading, I would first make sure that the books/texts you are trying to read are at the right level for you -- you want to look for something that pushes you and introduces you to new words, but that is not so difficult that you cannot follow what is going on in the text. If you keep getting overwhelmed with what you are reading, put it aside for now and try a book that is written at a slightly lower reading level until you find something that you are comfortable with. That could mean reading books written for younger children if that's your current level, but of course there's nothing wrong with that. :uppy: As you read more, your reading comprehension skills will get better and better, and you will be able to work your way up to more advanced texts before long. Just keep at it! :read:

However, one thing I do not recommend is to always stop and look up words or phrases that you don't know whenever you come across them. Doing so interrupts the flow of the story/text and, as you said, takes the fun out of reading. I find that it's best to try to understand the meaning from context alone, and if you still don't understand it, but it doesn't seem to be very important, then just ignore that part and keep going (and maybe remind yourself to look it up later if you are curious what it means). I usually only stop to look up a word if I can't figure it out from context and it seems like I will need to know it in order to properly understand the rest of the text.



To work on your writing skills, one thing worth trying is to write a journal entry every day for yourself. You can give yourself different topics to write about, talk about what you did that day, or anything else that comes to mind. If you prefer to actually have somebody to write to besides yourself, you might find it helpful to look for English websites or social media groups about things that you are interested in and join the discussion there! Of course, you can also use the forum here to talk to people in English and get feedback on what you are doing right or wrong, if you want.  :)



For speaking practice, you could look for a native speaker to chat with you over Skype, Discord, or another video or voice chat service if that's something that you are comfortable doing. You may also be able to find other students in your area who are learning English, too, and then you can practice and help each other in person! But if you are on your own, I would suggest first listening to dialogue between native speakers and recording yourself as you repeat what they say at your own pace. That way you can compare your audio to theirs and work on improving your pronunciation.

Once you are a little more familiar with English pronunciation (or if you already are), then you could try making a "spoken journal" by recording yourself talking about your day or again, anything else you want. If you don't know anyone that you can practice talking to in English, a pet or even a favorite toy or stuffed animal can make an excellent substitute speaking partner. They won't judge you if you mess up and won't mind one bit if they don't understand a word you're saying. :wink: Just having something to speak to can do a lot to build your confidence, and once you learn to speak with confidence, even if you make mistakes, you are a huge step closer to becoming fluent!



If time is an issue, though, my suggestion along with everything above would be to see if you can get a personal tutor, or if your university possibly offers classes in English that could help you reach B2 sooner. Working face-to-face with a trained teacher would probably help you get to the level you need to be at much more quickly than trying to study all by yourself. Even if your university doesn't have any English classes you could join, someone there may still have some advice to help you!



But no matter what, I definitely would not encourage you to stop and take a break. Your English will not get any better if you do not actively expose yourself to the language as much as possible, and the longer you go without practicing, the more likely you are to forget what you already know and then it will be even harder for you to get started again. The only way that it will get easier (and it will get easier!) is if you never give up and instead continue to challenge yourself to learn a little bit more each and every day. It will take time and a whole lot of patience and hard work, but I promise you will get there in the end. :)
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There’s no point in being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes.

Schuyler
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Registriert: 1. Mai 2015 01:40
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Re: How can I overcome a learning blockade?

Beitrag von Schuyler » 30. Aug 2019 23:06

Oh, and one more very important strategy for language learning: immersion. The best way to do this is to travel to an English-speaking country so that you have to put your English skills to use, of course, but if that isn't an option right now, look for ways that you can surround yourself with English at home. Some things to try, if you aren't doing them already, are watching your favorite films and TV shows in English (with English subtitles or no subtitles; avoid using German subtitles), reading books in English that you are already familiar with in German (so you don't have to work as hard to understand them), switching the language on your phone and other devices to English, playing video games and board games in English, taping labels on the objects around your house with the corresponding English word, and anything else you can think of. By immersing yourself in English as much as possible in ways that are fun, you can absorb a lot of new words and get a better feel for the grammar without even noticing that you are learning.



It might sound a little odd, but try to get into the habit of translating your thoughts into English as well. For example, whenever you think to yourself "Okay, it's time to go to bed now," pause and ask yourself how you would say that in English. That way you can practice spontaneously recalling words and grammar, which will help prepare you for when you need to speak English out loud.



Anyway, I hope something in there is actually useful for you! If you want to have your post corrected for mistakes, we can do that here, too. :)
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There’s no point in being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes.

Sophia Ha
Bilingual Newbie
Beiträge: 3
Registriert: 29. Aug 2019 16:00
Muttersprache: Deutsch

Re: How can I overcome a learning blockade?

Beitrag von Sophia Ha » 4. Sep 2019 20:34

Hello Schuyler,

thank you very much. I didn't expect such a long answer! It'd be nice if you could correct my previous text. I just read it again, and I actually caught some mistakes by myself. :lol: Your tips are great, and I've been applying a couple of them already for about two months.

About the reading problem: It's not that I can't follow the story as a whole, it's more that I can't get the nuances of some words. For instance, propose and suggest - what's the difference? I have a slight idea what they mean, but not really. I looked them up, read many definitions, and so forth. But still - I don't get them. So I can't use them in my active vocabulary. And if I do, I think it happens quickly that I'll use them in the wrong context forever. Do you know what I mean?

I already write a sort of dairy, and indeed, it helps a lot! Especially to maintain (or was it retain?) the vocabulary I've learned. Speaking is a whole another story, though. I'm still not quite sure how I should handle this. :rolly: Speaking to a toy sounds hilarious, but if it helps I should give it a shot (is that too informal?). :uppy:

I've considered to attend a B2 course in university, but I'm still not sure. Not that I don't want to. It's just the problem that you are forced to learn at a certain time, even if you don't want to. It reminds me of school, and I think I mentioned how it ended.  :lol:
Your words motivated me very much, even though I'm still thinking how I should ever use the tenses, or the vocabulary properly. By the way, I appreciate your effort that you wrote me all of those tips. I'll see which I can apply, and which not. :D

Schuyler
Frequent Typer
Beiträge: 195
Registriert: 1. Mai 2015 01:40
Muttersprache: (Am) English
Wohnort: USA

Re: How can I overcome a learning blockade?

Beitrag von Schuyler » 5. Sep 2019 08:51

Sure, let's have a look, then! :rolly:

For reference: red is for mistakes, green means that what you wrote could sound better / more natural, and blue is for comments/clarification.

I also underlined a couple parts where I'm not 100% sure what you mean. Could you clarify those or try to phrase them a different way?
Sophia Ha hat geschrieben: Hello everyone,

I think you can already tell what my problem is from my question. But to elaborate it, let me tell you a little about my journey with the English language:
I’ve been learning English since the fifth grade in school, and although I learned British English there, I tend to use American English for some reason. To be more specific, I had a level of A2 at the end of high school, which was after 13 grades. I didn’t learn much there, and I hadn’t had any intrinsic motivation to do so. This was the main problem that I’ve been neglected learning English so much. After high school, I went to university, and of course I need English there, especially because I’m studying a scientific major. I’m expected to speak English at B2 level, as the Abitur indicates that. But the truth is that I don’t speak it nearly at this level. Currently, I am on semester holidays, and I’ve been learning a lot of English – grammar, spelling, tenses, listening comprehension, reading, and even speaking (only to myself, though). I feel like I’ve already improved a lot when I compare my command of English now to how my skills were three months ago. I guess I have mastered the basics of English, even though I still forget to add an2 „s“1 for he/she/it or mix up the tenses sometimes. For that, I think, practice makes perfect.  :D   Though I have noticed that I can’t always understand sentences completely, even though I know all of the words in them. Isn’t that strange? Words do have ambiguous meanings, and isn’t it utopical to know them all? I can’t even read a simple English book without looking up many words. Furthermore, I'd rather not mention what a tough time I have understanding them. I have to read really slowly, which takes the fun out of reading. Moreover, there are numerous phrasal verbs, and I just can't memorize them all because they are very similar. I feel like that I can’t improve my English any further, like there is something holding me back from learning new vocabulary (or "new words"), idioms, and so on. Is there anyone here who can relate? Currently, I’m really discouraged and have no idea how I can overcome this. Should I take a break from learning English for a while, or just carry on? Do you guys have any ideas how „to solve“1 this issue? Maybe I am overlooking something. And don't get me wrong, of course speaking a foreign language as well as your native language is kind of impossible. Exceptions confirm the rule, though. But somehow this is my goal, just speaking naturally without thinking much, especially in terms of tenses and phrasal verbs as well as idioms. Unfortunately, living in an2 English-speaking country is currently not possible.
I’m looking forward to any tips you guys have for me. You can estimate my English level through this text, I guess. I didn’t look anything up, but it took me some time to write it, and I guess I shouldn't mention how many times I’ve rephrased some sentences. :spin:
 
PS: this is my first "post" in a forum ever, so if I've done anything wrong, please correct me!
Hello Schuyler,

thank1 you very much. I didn't expect such a long answer! It'd be nice if you could correct my previous text. I just read it again, and I actually caught some mistakes by myself. :lol: Your tips are great, and I've already been applying a couple of them for about two months.

About the reading problem: It's not that I can't follow the story as a whole, it's more that I can't grasp the nuances of some words. For instance, propose and suggest - what's the difference? I have a slight idea what they mean, but not really. I looked them up, read many definitions, and so forth. But still - I don't get them. So I can't use them in my active vocabulary. And if I do, I think it happens quickly that I'll use them in the wrong context forever. Do you know what I mean?3

I already keep a sort of diary - "to keep a diary" is a phrase, meaning that you regularly write in a diary. You could also say "I already write in a diary" or "I'm already writing a diary", and indeed, it helps a lot! Especially to maintain (or was it retain? - correct!3) the vocabulary I've learned. Speaking is a whole another4 story, though. I'm still not quite sure how I should handle this. :rolly: Speaking to a toy sounds hilarious, but if it helps, I should give it a shot (is that too informal? - this isn't a formal setting, so no, not at all! But "to give it a shot" is indeed an informal expression, so you don't want to use it in formal writing). :uppy:

I've considered attending a B2 course in university, but I'm still not sure. Not that I don't want to. It's just the problem that you are forced to learn at a certain time, even if you don't want to. It reminds me of school, and I think I mentioned how that ended.  :lol: 
Your words motivated me very much, even though I'm still wondering how I will ever learn to use the tenses or the vocabulary properly. By the way, I appreciate the effort you made writing all of those tips for me. I'll see which I can apply, and which I can't. :D
1These aren't actually mistakes, so I didn't change anything, but just note that quotation marks in English are different than in German. In English, both quotation marks are at the top, like "this". Quotation marks that start at the bottom like „this“ are never used and look very strange to an English speaker. When you're writing in a letter format in English, the first line after the greeting is also considered the start of a new sentence and is written with a capital letter. This isn't a big deal and of course, nobody is going to care what kind of quotation marks you use in a forum like this, but you'll want to use the "proper" formatting if you ever have to write something in a more formal context. :wink:


2Remember that whether you use a or an depends on the first sound of the following word (no matter what that word is): if the sound is a vowel, you use an; if the sound is a consonant, you use a. I say "sound" and not letter because pronunciation is all that matters. Usually when the first letter is a vowel (a/e/i/o/u), the sound will also start with a vowel and the same with consonants, but that is not always the case, so you should only consider what the word sounds like.

For example, "a S" is incorrect because although the letter "S" is a consonant, it is pronounced like "ess", so it needs to be "an S". Be careful with words that start with a silent H as well (hour, honour, honest - these would be preceded by an) or a U that is pronounced like the word you (uniform, university, united - these would be preceded by a).


3Ah yes, the English language has a huge vocabulary and a lot of words that have the same or a very similar meaning to others but may not always be used in exactly the same way, which can make things particularly frustrating for learners. :confused: I know it's not very helpful to hear, but a lot of the time, grasping the nuances between words is unfortunately one of those things in language learning that just have to be "felt" through observation.

That's one of the reasons why, like I said, you actually shouldn't look up every word when you read, because dictionaries will define the word, but they often don't say anything about how the meaning and usage differs from similar words, and of course the meaning of words can also change in different contexts. So it's really important to try to learn new words by looking at the rest of the sentence/paragraph without consulting a dictionary unless nothing else is helping. And then if the author uses either the same word or a different one that seems like it means the same thing later in the text, pay close attention to the context again and compare it to when the word was used before -- do you notice anything at all that has changed and might be relevant to the word choice? Is it a different character who is speaking or being spoken to? Has the mood gotten more or less formal? How about anything that's the same as before? :denk:

In the sense of "to put forward an idea for consideration", there isn't actually a significant difference between to suggest and to propose. Propose sounds somewhat more stiff and formal than suggest, I would say; you aren't as likely to hear it in a casual conversation between friends, but meaning-wise, the two words are pretty much interchangeable.

However, both words also have additional meanings and in these cases cannot be swapped for the other. Propose without a direct object, as in "He proposed (to her)," means "to ask someone to marry you" -- in other words, "to propose marriage". "He suggested," on the other hand, makes no sense as a complete sentence, although "He suggested marriage" would.

And suggest can also mean "to imply" or "to indicate", for example: "Are you suggesting (= implying) that I don't know what I'm doing?" or "This evidence suggests (= indicates) that John did eat the cookies after all." You could not replace suggest with propose in these sentences.

With to maintain vs. to retain, there is a difference, though subtle. Maintain is similar to sustain and means "to keep in good condition or at the same level, to keep something running smoothly", while retain means "to hold on to, to keep possession of", or in this case "to keep in memory". For retain, I imagine a fist holding onto something tightly and not letting go, and for maintain, I think of a custodian maintaining a building, working hard to keep everything clean and in order. :)


4Another is a combination of "an" + "other". Therefore, you don't say "an another", because the "an" is already there in another. Keeping that in mind, there are a couple ways you could write this sentence:
  • ... is another story.
  • ... is a whole other story. (Here you are essentially still saying "another", but the "whole" splits it up into "a" and "other".)
  • ... is a (whole) different story.
  • ... is a whole nother story. (The phrase "a whole nother" is colloquial and fairly common in speech, but it is practically never used in writing. :watch: Note: I only know of the word "nother" as part of this phrase, and not everyone recognizes it as an actual word.)
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There’s no point in being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes.

Sophia Ha
Bilingual Newbie
Beiträge: 3
Registriert: 29. Aug 2019 16:00
Muttersprache: Deutsch

Re: How can I overcome a learning blockade?

Beitrag von Sophia Ha » 11. Sep 2019 21:20

Thanks for all these explanations and tips. I had already known some of them before. Actually, I have no clue why I didn't apply them. :rolly:

"This was the main problem that I’ve been neglected learning English so much.": Well, this sentences refers to the one before, and should explain why I didn't learn English in school as much as I should've had. If it's still not clear enough, then I can't help it. Explaining something isn't one of my strengths.  :lol:

"isn’t it utopical to know them all?": I just looked it up, and I meant utopian/utopistic. Basically, something that is impossible to achieve.

"Exceptions confirm the rule": That's a proverb, and I just translated it from German into English.  :uppy: In this context, I meant that there are people who reach a command of English that is native like, but it's rather an exception than the norm.

"But somehow": No idea, how I should elaborate this one, but it isn't important.

"I think it happens quickly that I'll use them in the wrong context forever.": If I use words which I don't grasp completely, I will fossilize them with the more or less wrong meaning in my mind. I had already had structures/words/grammar that I'm used wrongly. I'm still thinking that I might use some unconsciously incorrect, but I'm going to eliminate them eventually. :)

By the way, I'm sorry for my late response!

Schuyler
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Beiträge: 195
Registriert: 1. Mai 2015 01:40
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Wohnort: USA

Re: How can I overcome a learning blockade?

Beitrag von Schuyler » 12. Sep 2019 10:20

Sophia Ha hat geschrieben: Thanks for all these explanations and tips. I had already knew some of them before. Actually, I have no clue why I didn't apply them. :rolly:

"This was the main problem that I’ve been neglected learning English so much.": Well, this sentence refers to the one before and should explain why I didn't learn English in school as much as I should've had. If it's still not clear enough, then I can't help it. Explaining something isn't one of my strengths.  :lol: Ah, then I would phrase that as either "This was the main reason why I neglected learning English so much back then" (the word "neglect" implies that it was your own fault because you didn't do as much as you should have to learn English) ...

Or: "This is the main reason why I didn't learn as much back then as I should have / as I wish I had" (this is more neutral and does not explicitly put blame on anyone.)

"I've been neglected" is the passive voice and means that someone else has neglected you, eg. if a parent doesn't take proper care of their child, then the child has been neglected by their parent(s).

"isn’t it utopical to know them all?": I just looked it up, and I meant utopian/utopistic. Basically, something that is impossible to achieve. Ah, I see! Hmm, I'd probably say "unrealistic" or "impossible" instead. You could say "isn't it a utopian idea to know them all?" and that would make sense, but "utopian" is most often used to describe social or political structures or concepts and sounds a little unusual in this context, at least to me.

"Exceptions confirm the rule": That's a proverb, and I just translated it from German into English.  :uppy: In this context, I meant that there are people who achieve a command of English comparable to a native, but it's rather an exception than the norm. I'm not familiar with this saying, but I looked it up and it appears that it exists in English, too, as "the exception proves the rule" or "the exception that proves the rule", referring to a rare exception that shows that a rule exists. I'm not sure how well-known it actually is, though (I'm not very good with proverbs, so it is possible it's only me who doesn't know it ...  :hammer: )

How you explained it just now would be a great alternative if you wanted to be sure to avoid any confusion.


"But somehow": No idea how I should elaborate on this one, but it isn't important. Maybe you could explain in German what you meant? I'd hate to just disregard anything, even if it's small. You never knew what could be useful to know later!

"I think it happens quickly that I'll use them in the wrong context forever.": If I use words which I don't grasp completely, I will ingrain them in my mind with the more or less wrong meaning. There have already been structures/words/grammar that I've used incorrectly. I still think that I might subconsciously be using some incorrectly, but I'm going to eliminate those eventually. :) In that case, I would say "And if I do, I think I quickly get stuck using them the wrong way forever."

By the way, I'm sorry for my late response! Don't be! This is all for your benefit and there is no rush at all. You're welcome to take as much time as you need. :)
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There’s no point in being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes.

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