I recently got an email from a student in Japan asking, “Can you tell me some of the things a good English training course should have? I really want to speak English well.” It’s a very important question, so I’d like to expand on my answer here in this article.
A good English training course should have:
* audio and video training
We learn by watching, not just by listening. Any course that gives you only audio and text will not help you much. A quality course, with professional videos to teach the meaning of words, and to show the patterns of grammar, is fundamental to any good English course. Videos are vital.
* multiple native speakers
I’ve seen courses that have no native speakers. Can you believe that? And many other courses have only one or two speakers. It’s great to have one main teacher in the course, but there needs to be other voices, men and women, who repeat the phrases and speak the dialogs. You need this because the brain needs to hear many versions of native pronunciation before it becomes comfortable with a phrase.
* grammar explained through patterns (not rules)
Have you ever noticed that most native speakers don’t really understand how their own language works? Before I became a language teacher, I certainly didn’t know what a phrasal verb was, or a modal verb. But as a native speaker, you can be sure I use them all the time, without any problem. How is that possible? The reason is, native speakers don’t learn grammar from books. They don’t learn lists of rules, and strange terms (like “past progressive.”) They simply are exposed to the patterns of how words are used, and how they change. It’s actually very simple, and very natural. And this is why any course you use HAS TO teach grammar through patterns. This is vital.
* contextual learning
Learning meaning from context is the most natural way to learn a language. Virtually every word you learned in you own language was learned from context. That means, you discovered the meaning based on how it was used with other words you already know. For example, if I want to teach you the Estonian word “olu”, I might write: My two favorite types of olu are Heineken and Tuborg.” You know that “olu” is the word for beer. Learning meaning this way is very different than simply being told what a word means. Your brain will learn the meaning faster, easier, and deeper when it learns by itself, through context.
I’ve written about constructions many times, so I won’t repeat myself here. But be sure to find a course that features constructions, and ideally shows construction branching, as well.
Remember, all of these techniques above are very important to your success. So, when you invest in an online course to learn English, you must make sure that the course uses all of these methods.