Can You Learn English Without English Classes?

Posted on January 9, 2019


I first went to Japan in 2005 and taught English in addition to absorbing the culture and seeing the country. Before I left, a British friend told me that I was sure to learn Japanese quickly from talking to people in shops, and just from being in Japan. Exciting to think that I could be a linguistic sponge and pick up so much language naturally.


Months later, still without a teacher, I could use and understand some everyday words but certainly not hold a conversation, or make friends with Japanese people who didn’t speak English, as I had been hoping.


You will not learn a language to above a very basic level just by living in the country and talking to people in shops. Think of the vocab you need to go to a shop. Probably something like “Hi”, “Would you like a bag?” “Thanks”, “No thanks”, “Bye” plus some numbers. The same goes for using the train.


By the way, using the train in London and listening to the announcements is an excellent way to learn the pronunciations of local places. Even native English speakers don’t always know how to pronounce British place names because our spelling can be full of surprises.


But you’re reading this blog post because you want to improve your English beyond learning names of tube stops, right? You want to improve fluency and accuracy. So can you learn English without English classes in London?


If you work here and just speak English for your job you run the risk of only being able to speak about your own job. If you have British friends and talk to them socially you may only learn to have social conversations. English classes cover a wide range of subjects.


In this wonderfully multicultural city I meet several non-native English speakers who have have lived here for many years. Some have learned English without English classes and they speak what I call “street English”. This is uncorrected English which enables them to communicate in day to day situations.


Adults can’t learn grammar effectively by absorbsion, like children can, so “Street English” can be hard for other people to understand. Is this action finished? Is it hypothetical? Also the pronunciation of people who have learned English as adults without English classes tends to be inaccurate. In Britain we are normally hesitant to correct the English of foreigners, unless we are English teachers.


Find out how to get people to correct your English here.


So in conclusion, it’s true that you can widen your vocabulary if you want to learn English without English classes. But you will sacrifice accuracy, being understood by other people, and the fast progression that you can see from applying yourself in English classes.


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