IMG_1012Are you doing an English course at the moment? Are you satisfied with your progress? If your answer is Not really,  perhaps you’re making things more difficult for yourself than they need to be. In the following, I describe five typical language learners I’ve come across and the drawbacks their behaviours have.

You’ll notice that I’ve used the pronoun he for three types and she for two. That’s just to avoid writing he or she every time and to make the text more readable. In real life I’ve met both male and female representatives of each type. 😉

The Perfectionist

“I’m not saying anything until it’s perfect.”

The Perfectionist is highly motivated to improve his English and prepared to work hard. He expresses himself with great care in his own language. And he has extremely high standards in English too – even if he’s hardly used the language since he left school. He wants to be absolutely certain that what he says reflects exactly what he means. Every word needs to be chosen with great care and the grammar has to be 100% correct.

The Perfectionist risks spending more time thinking about what to say than actually saying it. He often misses the chance to join in a discussion – by the time he’s satisfied with what he wants to say the others have moved on to the next topic. A very frustrating experience!

Are you a Perfectionist? You could get more out of lessons by being more realistic and taking a relaxed approach. Try to just join in without worrying excessively about accuracy. It’s not important to be absolutely perfect but to get your message across. You can always look up vocabulary or check grammar rules after the lesson.


The Translator

“How do you say xxx in English?”

The Translator decides what she wants to say in her native language and then translates it into English. In extreme forms this leads to English sentences with German word order. If she doesn’t know a word she needs, she asks the trainer. When other participants use a word which is new to her, she asks them for a translation, too. She’s committed to widening her vocabulary and makes a note of all these new words.

Although she works hard on her vocabulary, the Translator can’t cover all eventualities. So she’ll probably run into problems when she talks to someone who doesn’t speak her language.

Are you a Translator? Use the English lessons to practise skills you’ll need in real-life. If you can’t find the word you need, try explaining in other words. It may take you a while at first, but with practice you’ll get faster. And if you don’t know a word someone else uses, take a guess – there are usually enough clues in the context. Of course you can and should still use the time outside lessons to  learn vocabulary systematically.


The Improviser:

“You know what I mean.”

The Improviser is a very enthusiastic and vociferous member of the group. He dives into any activity and is often the first to answer a question – and his answers can be very long and detailed. The Improviser focuses on fluency rather than accuracy. He’s not at all interested in the mistakes he makes. When the trainer corrects him or explains a grammar point, he tends to switch off. His attitude is “What’s the problem? The others understood me.”

Although the Improviser is getting plenty of practice in speaking English, he’s probably not making much progress. He’s likely to be making the same mistakes every week.

Are you an Improviser? Your willingness to jump in at the deep end and have a go has its advantages. But if you would like to take your English up a notch, slow down a little. Take the time to plan what you want to say. Listen carefully to the corrections your trainer makes and to the feedback he or she gives you. Make a real effort to eliminate your typical mistakes one by one.


The Insecure Type

“I’m not sure if I can say it like this, but …”

The Insecure Type simply lacks confidence in her English. Whatever level she’s actually at,  she’s convinced it’s not good enough. She’s sure all the other members of the course are much better than her. And she says so regularly. She needs constant reassurance from the trainer that what she said was OK. So she finishes any contribution by asking “Was that right?”. But no matter how much the trainer praises her, it does nothing to boost her confidence.

The Insecure Type may try to shake off her inhibitions and play an active role in lessons. But she often speaks so softly or hesitantly that the others don’t hear her or get impatient.

Are you insecure about your English? Your English course should be seen as a protected environment where you can try out the language. Nobody is perfect (yet). Make a conscious effort not to think too much about how you’re doing. Instead of judging your performance, try to relax, get into the flow of the language and have fun. And remember to speak up.


The Quiet Type

“I don’t do small talk”

The Quiet Type wants to learn English, he does his homework and comes to lessons regularly. He just doesn’t say much. He rarely joins in class discussions. If the trainer or another participant asks him a direct question he gives the shortest possible answer. And that can be just one word. He doesn’t see the point of small talk (in any language). But he  can surprise everyone when a topic he’s really interested happens to crop up. Suddenly he’s got lots to say, passing on his knowledge of his favourite subject to the rest of group with real passion.

Language learning in a group is all about speaking. The Quiet Type is missing a lot of opportunities to practise and gain confidence in speaking English.

Are you a Quiet Type? Why not take the initiative in lessons and introduce the topics you find interesting? And when it comes to  other class discussions and small talk, challenge yourself to give longer answers. Asking the other members of the group questions is also a good way to play a more active role in lessons.


And? Did you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions? 😉



Posted on Jun 8, 2015 in getting ahead
Porträt Nicola Bartlett
Nicola Bartlett
I’ve been an English trainer for over 25 years, helping adults to get their message across in English – clearly and appropriately. Successful communication in English requires more than just a good knowledge of the language. An understanding of different mentalities and a feeling for the best approach are vital, too. » more