Learning Strategies: Teach to Learn

This is the transcript for the English with Stephen podcast on the origin of the word “sabotage”.

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Hello and welcome to the English with Stephen podcast. My name’s Stephen Greene and today I have a learning strategy for you. Learning strategies are what good learners do to learn efficiently and effectively.

Today’s learning strategy comes from my own experience of learning and teaching, but it is something that most of my students seem to agree with quite easily.

If you want to learn something, teach it.

That’s right. One of the best ways of learning is teaching. I’m going to explain why this is true and how you can use this on your English learning path.

After this short musical break.

I recently had a conversation on Facebook with a listener to this podcast. He told me that he loves the episodes and was listening to them all a second time. I was flattered to hear this positive feedback.

But then this listener actually apologised. He said he was studying for long, intense periods of time. He wanted to say sorry because this is not what I was recommending in many of my podcasts. I told him not to worry. There is more than one way to study, and the key is to do whatever you find interesting and whatever works for you.

If you’d like to get in touch with me, you can leave me a message on my site EnglishwithStephen.com or on my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram page. I promise to answer every message! You can find my social media by searching for English with Stephen, or by following the links on my site, EnglishwithStephen.com.

And now back to why teaching is the best way to learn.

Many, many years ago, I had just finished university and I was searching for something to do with my life. I had studied Economics and Politics, but I didn’t want to work in these areas.

I went to a party and met a couple of people who had just returned from teaching English in Prague. They told me that all I needed was a certificate from Cambridge University and I could teach English anywhere in the world. The course to get the certificate was just 4 weeks.

That sounded like a piece of cake. I mean, I could speak and write English pretty well, so how difficult could it be?

I got my first ideas of how difficult it could be on the 4-week course. To this day, I think I did more work in that 4 weeks than I had done in 3 years at university. But when I got my first job teaching English in Poland, I fully understood that I knew next to nothing about how English really works.

Before each class, I would spend hours looking at grammar books, preparing activities and trying to understand exactly that it was I was trying to teach. It took me the whole year before I felt comfortable with the basics of the language.

I really do need to apologise to my students from that first year of my teaching.

But you see, it was the act of teaching that taught me about my language. If I never had the need to teach English, I wouldn’t have properly understood it.

A similar thing happened a few years later. I started to give training courses to new teachers. It was only when I was teaching people how to teach that I fully understood what it meant to teach.

This insight has been important to my teaching. I often get my students to try to teach me something, or at least to teach their classmates something. This is a great way of revising for upcoming tests. I tell students that they are going to teach, for example, the present perfect to their colleagues next week. They get the chance to ask me any questions, and then they prepare their “class”. In small groups, the students then give their presentation about their language point.

If a student does the preparation, this is a fantastic way of reinforcing the language they are trying to learn.

But how can you do this if your teacher doesn’t ask you? Or maybe you don’t have an English teacher and you are trying to learn on your own? I have three ideas for you…

  1. Find other people who are learning English and volunteer to give them a class. Be very clear that you are not a professional and that you are doing it to improve your own English. These people could be family, or friends, or maybe even work colleagues.
  2. Go online, for example on Facebook, and give a presentation. Invite comments and questions from other learners. You could do this on your own social media or join a group of other English students. There are hundreds of them on Facebook, including one I run called Learn English at Home.
  3. If you can’t find real people, or you don’t like the idea of teaching online, use your imagination. Pretend you have a class, set up a whiteboard, and give your presentation. Imagine the questions you might ask and prepare answers for them.

One thing I learned from teaching is that you are exposing yourself. People will ask you questions and sometimes you will not know the answer. That is ok. This is a learning process. Thank the person for the question, tell them you are not sure of the answer but that you will go and do some research, and then give them the answer later.

Now it’s your turn. Have you ever had to teach something, maybe not English, and learned more from the experience? What did you teach, and more importantly, what did you learn?

I would love you hear you experiences. Leave me a message on my site, EnglishwithStephen.com, or find me on my social media. As I mentioned earlier, I promise to answer everyone who sends me a message.

And by the way, remember the other thing I said earlier. Maybe this learning strategy is not good for you. That is ok. There are a million other ways of learning a language. You just need to experiment and find the ones that work for you.

Thanks for listening. I hope to speak to you again next week.

Good studies!

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