How to become bilingual

how to become bilingual business person relaxing

Teachers and students email me occasionally to ask how to become bilingual. For example, Tiffany is teaching English in China and has the following problem:

The motivated student who can’t improve their English

I am teaching a two-hour one-on-one ESL lesson to a 35-year-old Chinese man, and I am struggling to improve his English. He has been studying English for ten years and has lived in Australia for two, but he still struggles with advancing his English. If you have any insight or advice, I would be very grateful.

What is going wrong?

Let’s face it, most people who live for two years in a country where English is the native language and who are motivated to learn will be fluent by the end of their stay. I suspect that the problem lies with the student and not the English teacher. Unfortunately some people put all the onus on the teacher who has to teach them rather than making an effort to learn.

What is going on?

If you have a student like this, ask yourself these questions:

We know your student is motivated because they are taking private English lessons, but are they making any mental effort to learn?

Are they doing homework?

And are they learning vocabulary independently?

In addition, are they memorizing grammatical structures on their own?

Or do they show up for class and think they will improve because you are teaching them? They may believe that it’s your job to teach them rather than their job to learn. As far as they are concerned, they have done their bit by taking the lessons.

How to become bilingual

Try these strategies for success to help your student make progress:

Set homework each week. Give vocabulary lists to learn, by heart, from English to Chinese and from Chinese to English. If your student has to write English, they should memorize spelling too. At the start of each lesson, give them a test on the vocab and keep a record of their scores, that way, they can see their progress. If they haven’t learned the words, there you go! How do they expect to improve if they don’t make the effort?

I would also give them a grammar topic to study and master each week. In addition, give them a test to measure progress.

Putting them on the spot like this in every lesson reminds them that they are responsible for their learning. You can facilitate, but you can’t learn for them.

No time

If your student says they have no time to learn vocabulary outside of class, tell them their progress will be limited. Perhaps you can record the vocabulary and they can play the words while travelling to work. Everyone can always find ten minutes a day for something – it’s a question of motivation, organisation and priorities. The good news is that once you have learned a language, you know it; the job is done! So it is worth the effort initially required. Sure, you can get a bit rusty if you don’t use the language for a while, but it all comes back very quickly when you start using it again.

Give your student this method to learn vocabulary. This task involves writing words and reviewing them daily. The physical act of writing helps learning.

Helpful Teaching Resources

If you have my book of activities for teens and adults, take the step one and step two games to drill vocabulary and grammar. This content then goes on the list for homework. Next split the lesson into drill activities for new words and grammar and fluency activities. Using this teaching method will show you how to become bilingual.

Join in with your ideas on how to become bilingual

Your comments are welcome in the box below. (Your email is private, it’s only if I need to write to you, and if you want to follow the post.) Any of my teaching resources will help your students progress on their language journey. Feel free to contact me so I can help you choose the best resource for your needs.

3 thoughts on “How to become bilingual”

  1. Shelley Vernon

    More information on this student from Tiffany: He is a very dedicated student, but as he has studied for ten years he is actually very well versed in language and grammar conventions however it just does not seem to stick when he speaks.

    He has quite an extensive vocabulary which interestingly is more geared towards formal language but occasionally lacking in more everyday and common English.

    Although he tries very hard I cannot seem to improve his fluency when speaking and listening

    1. Shelley Vernon

      Since he has a wide vocabulary already, have him learn ten phrases every day, the kind of thing he gets wrong when he is speaking, even though he may know it “on paper”.

      Test him on those phrases at the next lesson. Test him, say, by asking him a question, and in the reply, he must insert the phrase.

      1. Shelley Vernon

        When he makes a mistake, a typical one, that he is always making, stop him, but don’t give him the correction, let him think and correct himself. Pick a few of his typical mistakes and NEVER let them pass – he has to auto-correct each time. Don’t correct everything, select a few biggies. Stick to them until, eventually, he will stop making those mistakes. Then you can move on to different ones.

        Get him to prepare presentations on topics that he likes – and to include sentences with some of the typical errors he makes – but corrected – let him choose the topics. He should prepare a three-minute talk for every lesson, (actually you can let the talk be as long as he likes, but specify a minimum of three minutes.

        He should give these talks using bullet points, but NOT reading from a sheet or powerpoint. To get those ready he’ll have to rehearse and…practise makes perfect!

        And of course, immersion is great, as much as possible. It all helps.

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