How to Learn English
LESSON #2 How to prepare to learn English
by John Matsushima

Do you speak English regularly? Do you often have a chance to use English? When you work a normal job that doesn't give you the chance to come into contact with foreigners, and you speak only Japanese in your day-to-day life, it can be difficult to suddenly change your thinking to English.  It can be like watching a movie and then stopping and switching to a different movie. Your brain naturally wants to keep watching the first movie, and it is difficult to stop thinking about it and start with the next movie.  English is the same.

To learn English quick and easily, it is necessary to know how to change your brain and start thinking in English.  

John Matsushima 先生

Think about how much easier it will be for you to absorb new words, catch phrases, and say what you want in English. Preparation is key to becoming a great student of English. There are 4 things you need to do before you actually start studying English:
  1. Prepare your ears to be ready to receive English words. 
  2. Prepare your mouth to speak in English. 
  3. Prepare your brain to think in English.

1. Get Ready to Listen
Have you ever noticed that if you have been studying English with the same teacher for a long time, it becomes easier to hear their words? The reason is that the listening part of your brain has learned to relax and take in what is being said.  Often, we think too much when we are trying to listen, but our brain can only do one thing at a time.  Even in when speaking to another Japanese person, have you ever completely missed what a person was saying because you were thinking about what you wanted to say instead of focusing on listening?

In order to listen, we must stop thinking about what we want to say, and focus on the speaker instead.

With that in mind, here are a few things you can do to get your English into "Receive English" mode:
  • Listen to music in English before you come to class.
    • Music boosts your motivation AND improves your listening.  
  • Listen to an English CD for 30 minutes.
    • Works great when listening to dialogue everytime.
  • Watch cartoons in English with no subtitles.
    • This is great because they are not serious like a tv drama and can help you relax.  Cartoons are easy to understand even without any sound at all!
  • Practice your pronunciation. 
    • If you can't say it, you can't hear it. Plain and simple. 
    • STOP using katakana when you take notes in class.  There are sounds in English that cannot be written with katakana.  You can use phonetic symbols, but those are difficult to remember.  I recommend writing a similar word that you do know how to pronounce.  For example, everyone knows how Americans pronounce "OH MY GOD!!!!!"  If you remember the "O" sound in GOD, then you can write in next to other words like HOT.
  • Improve your vocabulary.
    • After a listening exercise in class, or on a CD, ask yourself if the reason you couldn't hear was because you lacked the vocabulary.  If so, then you need to prepare by studying more vocabulary to improve your listening.
  • Practice grammatical sentence patterns and make many, many example sentences with new grammar that you learned.
    • Same as with vocabulary.  If you are not familiar with a sentence pattern, then you probably won't catch it even if you can catch the meaning of all the words in the sentence. To prepare, make 10 different example sentences with one sentence pattern.
VERY IMPORTANT These exercises must be done in ENGLISH ONLY. Try not to even think in Japanese. It is not important if you do not understand everything that you hear.  The only thing that is important is that you can hear the sounds.

HOMEWORK 宿題:Write down 3 ways you will prepare your ears for English everyday.

2. Get Ready to Speak

After practicing your listening skills for some time, you may be surprised to find that you still can't speak. Just like listening, there is some preparation that must be done. 

Have you ever noticed that when you see foreign speakers talk, they move their mouth a lot more than Japanese? 

Japanese sounds don't require that much lip movement, but English sounds do.  Sometimes, the proper sound can't be made unless you move your lips, as when making a "W" sound.  Other times, it is necessary to use your tongue, as when making the "TH" sound.

Here are some things you can do to prepare your mouth to speak English:

  • Watch a video on YouTube of English-speaker's mouths as they pronounce English words. Here are some examples.  I made a playlist on YouTube, so please try it. Click here for playlist.
  • Don't be shy.  I know that sticking out your tongue to say "that" is embarrasing, but it is necessary if you want to have good pronunciation.
  • Read out loud.  Try reading out loud for several minutes each day. The meaning of the words are not important, so it is ok if you don't understand it.  You don't even have to think about it.  Just read out the sounds slowly and practice making the sounds with your mouth.
  • Shadow - Just as with reading out loud, the meaning of what is being said is not important.  Just repeat what you hear and pay attention to  it your pronunciation.

HOMEWORK 宿題:Write down what you will do everyday to improve your speaking ability and when you will start!

3. Get Ready to Think in English

Have you ever had a dream where you were speaking English?

If you have, then I congratulate you because it means that your English skill is really improving!  Your brain has gotten used to speaking and listening in English, and now it will start to use English automatically! 

You can speed this process up by 10x just by thinking in English!

When you think in English, you are using the listening and speaking part of your brain at the same time. It is similar to what is called "Image training".  In English, it is called "Visualization".  There are different techniques for this. Are you ready to boost your English learning ability quickly?  Start doing these things NOW!

Dialogue visualization - Imagine two people having a conversation in English.  Think about the place, the circumstances, and why they are speaking.  Think about who these people are. What do their voices sound like?What are they talking about? If you don't have such a good imagination, then you can memorize a dialogue from a book, or from class, then add your own phrases. Here is a pdf of a dialogue the you can practice in your mind (click here).
  • Daily phrases - Use short daily phrases in English only. When the situation arises, try to think phrases like these in English only:
    • I'm going to be late!
    • Ouch!
    • Why do American people....?
    • I'm hungry!
    • That looks delicious!
    • The train is so crowded.
    • It is so hot.
    • What time is it?
  • Sing songs in your head - Memorize your favorite song in English and sing it to yourself. You don't have to use your voice, so you can do it anywhere.  This is fun and will make you feel in a good mood!
  • DON'T TRANSLATE FROM JAPANESE! Don't think in Japanese and then try to translate it in your head in English. It is very important that you turn off the Japanese language switch in your brain for now and think only in English!
HOMEWORK 宿題:Three times a day, stop and look around. Think about everything you see in English. 

This lesson is finished. Good job!