Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

Have You Hit the English Learner's Dip? How to Get Out of It

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Tue, Nov 27, 2012 @ 08:05 AM

language learner's dipWhat methods are you currently using to learn English? How well are they working? If they aren't working well, do you think the problem is that you aren't working hard enough?

What if the problem isn't the amount of effort that you are putting in?

What if the problem is that the method you are using isn't right for you? Could you quit using your current method right away and try something new?

I just finished reading a book by Seth Godin called The Dip. Seth challenges the advice that we have always accepted as truth such as the belief that "quitters are losers." Seth argues that quitters may actually be winners if they have the wisdom to know that the project they are working or the method they are using to reach their goal is not right for them and that it will never work. According to Seth, the "dip" is the moment we realize that we are putting in a ton of effort but not getting results. We admit to ourselves that something isn't working.

Have you hit your English-learning dip yet?

Becoming great at learning languages is all about being able to step back and evaluate the methods that you are using to figure out if they are working and to making a quick change if they are not.

In this article, I will give you a few scenarios about possible English-learning dips that you might be in right now and how you can get out of them.


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6 steps to get out of your English-learning dip:

  1. number six, strategies to get out of English learning dipHave the courage to admit that what you are currently doing isn't working.
  2. Figure out what is missing (motivation, the right learning environment, self-discipline, daily practice, challenge, etc.)
  3. Gather your resources. Who could help you get out of this dip? Ask for advice from professionals that you know in the language learning field.
  4. Get to know the way that you learn best. Everyone has their own learning style. How could you use knowledge about the way you learn best (through movement, with visuals, by reading) to change your method and get out of your dip?
  5. Set up a new method and commit to it.
  6. Measure your progress and re-evaluate in a few months.



Which Dip Are You Encountering Right Now?



1) You are taking large group classes and they aren't working


large group English classesYou are attending the large group English class at the local community center because it is cheap and it was easy to get started. However, you might be encountering some of these problems:


  • Your classmates are at a lower level and you are not being challenged.
  • Your teacher spends most of the class talking and you get very few opportunities to practice the language.
  • Your classes are huge. There are at least 40 students at each class.
  • The textbooks are outdated and boring.
  • You are losing your motivation to continue learning.




What you can do:


In order to learn, you must be motivated and this learning situation probably reminds you of your days in grade school. You need to rekindle that sense of motivation and drive that you had when you first arrived in the U.S. and enrolled in your class.

How can you do that?

If you don't want to quit your group class, you could try supplementing this class with a weekly language exchange. You can also join an English conversation meetup. This would offer a more casual, lighthearted atmosphere for learning English and you would probably be interacting with a smaller group of people.

You can also try learning English by participating in your hobbies with native English speakers. Join a photography club or a book club. Learning English will become less of a chore this way and you will see the immediate benefits of speaking, which is being able to connect with others who share your interests.



2) You are working with a private English teacher but you aren't finding the time to practice outside of class


washing dishes at homeLet's be honest.

Working with a private English teacher in the U.S. is not cheap. However, it might be one of the most effective and efficient ways to reach your goal if you make the time to practice what you learn outside of class.

But many people can't do that.

Many busy international professionals barely have enough time to meet with their teacher twice per week and doing homework in addition to their private class is often too much to ask.

Is this your situation?


What you can do:


  • Ask your teacher to suggest homework tasks that fit with your daily activities. Instead of listening to music on the way to work, you could listen to NPR for 10 minutes and you could summarize what you heard for your teacher. This type of homework doesn't require extra time but it allows you to reinforce the skills you are learning in class.
  • Set a homework schedule and commit to it. Write down the days and times that you will work on your English homework each week. Will it be on Mondays and Thursdays from 7pm until 8pm? Writing it into your schedule will make it easier to do.
  • Give up a pointless task and exchange it for English homework or practice. There are so many things that you probably do every day at work that are pointless. Do you check your email twenty five times a day? Do you make three trips to the vending machine? Why not replace those pointless tasks with a quick phrasal verb quiz or a chat with the colleague next to you in English?



3) You are feeling too overwhelmed with the new culture to focus on the language

 overwhelmed exapt in the USMoving to a new country is a big deal. There are so many aspects of your new life that you need to figure out when you first arrive. if you aren't acknowledging the stress that this experience might be bringing into your life and if you aren't dealing with it, you are probably struggling to get started with your English.

Where should you buy your groceries? How do you apply for a driver's license? If these basic tasks are difficult to do, it's going to be hard to focus on learning new expressions and verb conjugations. Maybe you have already tried to get started with an English class but you are feeling distracted and not present.

How can you get out of this dip and free up space in your mind to get started working on your English?


What you can do:


  • Be patient with yourself.
  • Acknowledge where you are in your cultural transition. Some interculturalists believe that we all go through culture shock in stages. That may or may not be true for you. Learn to observe yourself and recognize where you are in your transition process.
  • Find a community of other international professionals who have just arrived in the U.S. and meet with them regularly for coffee.
  • Delay formal language classes until you feel more at ease and relaxed in your new environment.



Are you currently in the  middle of any of these English-learning dips? Remember, the key to succeeding is to recognize that you are in a dip, change the methods that aren't working, and start on a new path to your goal.

Don't keep doing something that isn't working! Make a change and get on the right track. Good luck and please reach out to us if you are looking for more help or guidance.


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Photo credits: CarbonNYC, sidewalk flying, hahatango, robertotostes

Seth Godin (2007) The Dip

Topics: Advice for English Students, How to Learn English

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