Natural Approach to Learning English

Last Updated on February 12, 2022 by Estrella

Natural approach to learning English

What is a natural approach to learning English?   Remember how you learned your native language when you were young?   Before you started school?   You imitated your parents, grandparents, and those who surround you.   You listened, you copied how they spoke.   You did not use a book to learn vocabulary, sentence structure, or pronunciation.   You just picked it up like you picked up other habits.

How to learn a foreign language like a child

You may think, “Well, I’m not a child now, so how do I learn another language the way I learned my native language?”

To answer your question, let me share a couple of stories with you.

I attended a workshop taught by Jo Ann Olliphant some years ago.   She taught French to both children and adults.   She graciously extended an invitation to the participants to visit her classes and observe her teaching techniques.    I took her up on her offer and observed both her elementary school class and adult class.

In her 6th grade classroom, the children sat on the floor in their school uniform.   Jo Ann took a deck of cards out and have the students say each card in French.   The students knew the cards by heart, and were having fun saying the names together.   They were smiling because this felt like a game to them.

Then they went to different stations to work with several other students on some fun projects.   The atmosphere in the classroom was light and relaxed.   I did not pick up on the feeling of “Do we HAVE to do this?” from any of the students.   They liked being there.   They enjoyed their classroom activities.

How Adults can learn language patterns easily and quickly

Then I went to Jo Ann’s class for adults.   The students sat in a circle.   Jo Ann greeted each person in French, and invited the students to greet each other in French, imitating her pattern.

She taught several new patterns that evening, introducing a part of speech without needing to explain.   It’s repetition of the patterns, inviting students to imitate the pattern, providing help when needed.   Everyone imitated the patterns beautifully.   More importantly, at the end of the class, every student remembered what they learned at the beginning of the hour.   Now THAT’s effective language learning!

How to make language learning relaxing

In her workshop, Jo Ann explained how she used tests.   She waits until her students have mastered the material at least 80% BEFORE she tests them.    This ensures that their test score would be satisfactory to them, which in turn builds confidence in their learning.

In conventional foreign language class, if students were tested after summer vacation, they would remember around 20% or so of what they had learned the previous year.  In Jo Ann’s class, the students remember 90% of what they learned after summer vacation!

That speaks to the value of NOT testing before students feel ready to show what they know.

How do we apply this?

So how do we use the information above to help us learn English more efficiently and effectively?

  • Jo Ann chose fun activities for her students.    This kept their interest.   You can choose English learning activities that feel fun to you.
  • Jo Ann did not test her students until they have almost mastered the content.   You can allow yourself more learning time before requiring yourself to be correct.
  • Jo Ann demonstrated sentences patterns and had her students repeat them with each other so they can use their intuitive skills to detect the word order.

Play with this.   See what works well for you.   If an activity feels fun and relaxing, choose that.   If it feels stressful, choose something else.    Learning is always more effective when you are relaxed and enjoying the activities.

If there are other topics you would like me to address, please send an email to

If you find this article helpful, here’s another one on English fluency is more than just words.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email

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