Do you know how you learn?

Many people in Spain call me an English Teacher because I ¨ teach ¨ English, and they will then ask me what method I use. When I was first asked […]


Jonathan Ballantine - 19 March, 2018 || English Golf Experience


Many people in Spain call me an English Teacher because I ¨ teach ¨ English, and they will then ask me what method I use. When I was first asked this question 10 years ago I struggled to answer it because I was new to teaching English. Now, 10 years later, I still struggle to answer the question, although for very different reasons.

In the 10 years that I have been teaching English in Spain I have learnt many things about teaching English. However, more importantly I have learnt how people learn, the learning process itself. Through my experience of working with Spanish people I have observed the default learning approach they use to learn English, and have witnessed first hand their lack of progress respective to the time, energy and money they have invested.

Despite its poor performance and lack of results, thousands of Spanish people continue to proceed with this traditional learning approach. Would an inventor use the same process after it has failed? Of course not!

Going back to my earlier point about why I am still struggling to answer the question about teaching methodology. Normally my response to this is question is that I don´t have one. This always seems to surprise people, and in some cases has led to some discussions. So why I have chosen not to use an English Teaching Methodology? For me the answer is very simple: I don´t teach people English, I help you learn English.

This is not merely semantics. When you are focused on method your objective switches from learning (internal) towards teaching (external). Modern Teaching, what we have witnessed for the last 100 years, is a hierarchical, one-way instruction process where information is transferred to a group. This method was not designed for effective learning but rather for managing large groups of people. Remember classes used to be for 70+ people. If you examine the business model of language schools (yes, they are profit-making businesses) you will see that class structure is designed to benefit the language school (revenue) and teacher (content/control).

Twenty-first century living has led us to believe that education/learning are defined by Certificates, such as Advanced or an MBA. Our society has also placed high importance on the Building, such as Harvard. Maybe these factors give you artificial currency for job applications, positions in political parties or access to Puerto del Hierro. However, they are not substitutes for intrinsic learning.

A few weeks ago I was told a story about somebody who had Proficiency English and then went to work in London. When he started working there he was shocked that he couldn´t understand a word of English. I´m not surprised because speaking and listening is not an exam. They are skills that must be trained and practiced just like running a marathon or a theatre audition.

So what is learning?

Most people think that learning is knowing how to do something or remembering a fact. I don´t think this is correct. For example, I could read books on swimming or driving a car and I will know how do these tasks but have I actually learnt them. Can I really drive?  Can I really swim?

Learning is the transformation of a skill, habit or knowledge, and stems from going through a change process (struggle). It requires stretching. Learning is achieved through many forms such as self-discovery, mentoring, observation, imitation, experimentation, experience, action, interaction, participation, etc. There are many ways to learn and (modern) teaching is probably the least effective. And in many cases obstructs natural learning.

If teaching was effective at learning English then Spanish people would be making some form of progress. Yet the people I meet complain about their lack of progression.

The obsession Spanish people have with Method demonstrates no real understanding of their individual learning process. How can a standardised methodology designed for millions of people across the world help you to learn English? A methodology assumes a generic student. However, you are not generic, you are a person with specific preferences, problems and interests. We learn differently because we are different.

You are also Spanish which means how you learn English will be very different than somebody from Russia or Taiwan. You have different grammar systems, different writing systems and different sound systems. As adult learners your base language of Spanish will affect how you learn English. Learning to speak and understand Spanish has really helped me to help Spanish people learn English.  How? Through empathy and reverse engineering.

Learning how you learn is the first step in your language learning journey. Standardised teaching materials and methods are not the basis for effective learning. So now you know why I don´t use an English Teaching Methodology? I don´t teach people English, I help you learn English.


About Jonathan Ballantine

Jonathan has been living in Spain for over seven years. Previously he worked in the Consulting sector for companies based in London, Madrid and Sydney. Jonathan is passionate about personal development and coaching, and incorporates many coaching techniques in his teaching. He is also passionate about sports and outdoor activities.




You never forget a good teacher

English Golf Experience was founded by Jonathan Ballantine, a native English trainer, and certified by the University of Cambridge to teach English as a second language.

Jonathan has been living in Spain for over ten years. He is also passionate about sports and outdoor activities.




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