ESL Myths

1.  English is a difficult language to learn

Toddlers can speak English perfectly without hearing about nouns or adjectives, but it takes years before they can read (if ever) and less than 2% of the entire population writes well.*  History shows that English writing and speaking developed as two separate languages. []  Teaching writing and expecting a result in speaking is what is giving English a bad reputation. Writing English is difficult (almost impossible) but speaking English is easy.


2. Students believe studying grammar will help them learn a new language

Grammar and fluency aren’t the same train. Grammar is a writing tool with over 200 rules and exceptions. No one can stay present to ‘rules’ in the flow of conversation.  Studying grammar actually prevents people from speaking English because they are so worried about getting their grammar right they can’t keep up with conversation. Grammar is slightly more useful for writing but to speak English confidently, spend an afternoon with English is Stupid, Students are Not to learn the important patterns that are always true for speaking English. It isn’t difficult, but it isn’t grammar.

3. Students believe people can’t understand them because of their pronunciation; they are embarrassed about their accents

Concern about accent is often excessive and unnecessary. First of all, everyone who speaks English has an accent. English is a stress-based language which means individual sounds are not important but specific qualities must be applied to specific syllables for understanding. For example: no one knows what a BAnana is and they can’t guess because the stress is in the wrong place. Native speakers rely on word stress for meaning. Ask the grocer for a faNAna or a laNAna and you’ll get your long, sweet, yellow, tropical fruit every time. Learning about word stress and the patterns of how conversation works is an effective way to learn to speak English confidently. Accents are charming!

4. The dictionary is a useful tool for English learners

The dictionary is the most useless book that ever darkened the classroom door. People can’t and don’t use dictionaries for many reasons. It doesn’t make sense to arrange a non-phonetic alphabetically.  English is idiomatic and the dictionary is literal. Ordinary expressions and common use/meanings of words are not in the dictionary. Because of connected speech about 80% of conversational words aren’t in standard dictionaries. (whadaya talki nabout?) One has to already know how to spell a word and what it means before they can look it up in a standard dictionary. In other words you can’t use it until you don’t need it.

What students often need to know is how word are pronounced and how they are used in expressions – none of this critical information is in a standard dictionary. Native speakers may use a dictionary (mostly online) to verify what they think a word means. Non-native speakers can’t use a dictionary at all.

There is a new dictionary that is useful. Grass is Black Sound Dictionary categorizes words logically – by main vowel sound and includes thousands of expressions. Teacher Judy’s Sound Dictionary app has the color-coded word list from Grass is Black . It works for pronunciation and spelling.

To view/try the EPA resources for free visit the wiki

5. Conversation class is a great way to improve your speaking

Be careful with conversation classes. Unless you are practicing specific aspects of a speaking outlined by a qualified speaking teacher, you could be just practicing your mistakes with people who know less about English than you do.  If your efforts are fossilizing (making permanent) problem areas, conversation class does more harm than good.