According to Wikipedia, around 500 million people around the world speak English as a native language. But more than one billion speak it as a second language. In our global world, communication is very important. Knowing English can provide new areas of opportunity for many people. As Jay Walker says in this TED Talk, the world has “English Mania”.
The British Council has partnered with Futurelearn, to develop its first MOOC, Exploring English: language and culture. It is free for the public, and starts September 1, 2014 and lasts 6 weeks. Charlie Chung of BestCerts had a discussion with Chris Cavey, lead educator for the MOOC at the British Council.
The British Council is a government organization that promotes international cultural relations. It has English Teaching Centres in more than 50 countries around the world. It also hosts LearnEnglish, a free website of English learning resources. The site has: story videos, grammar lessons, vocabulary games, and advice on taking tests and writing essays. The site is also social, so people can post comments (sometimes staff will reply) and have discussions. British Council also has separate websites for teenage learners and younger kids, as well as English teachers.
Language and culture
The British Council offers all of these English learning resources because language is an important part of culture. They also believe that understanding a culture can help someone understand the language, so they focus on teaching both the language and culture.
“If you have a feeling for the culture then the language can make sense in more ways”
What do people find most surprising about British culture? Chris says that many people have preconceived stereotypes about British culture. They often are surprised to find that they are not true. Chris explains:
The keys to learning English
Chris has been teaching English for more than 20 years, in many countries around the world. What advice does he have for people learning English? There are two things that are very important:
- The key to learning a language is motivation. Don’t worry about having talent or getting the best teacher. Chris says “teachers certainly help people learn, but the key to learning is motivation, it comes from the learner.”
- Your goal should be fluency over accuracy. Accuracy is having the correct grammar and pronunciation. Fluency is being able to communicate with others in the language. Many learners have been taught at school to be 100% accurate. But instead of worrying about making mistakes, just focus on communicating. That is the purpose of language! If people understand you, that is more important than speaking perfectly.
Going from intermediate to advanced English
“You cannot learn a language without making mistakes”
Many learners study for years and reach an intermediate level of English, but struggle to improve beyond that. They may study hard, but still have trouble understanding native speakers and find it difficult to communicate. Chris says that this is very common, and it is called the ‘intermediate plateau’. Chris describes this further:
The LearnEnglish resources are perfect for learners stuck on the ‘intermediate plateau’. There are a wide variety of exercises, including many video clips and audio podcasts. All of them discuss realistic situations. The LearnEnglish website is great for studying alone, but the Exploring English MOOC will be even better for practicing with others!
About the ‘Exploring English’ MOOC
The MOOC will focus on different topics each week for 6 weeks. There will be interviews with prominent English people, such as Sir Richard Branson. You will then be able to study the English used in these videos. There will also be quizzes and exercises. Students will be asked to discuss their own culture, music, the environment, and how they feel about learning English!
There will also be tutors available who can answer some of the students’ questions. If you are an intermediate-level English language learner, and would like to practice with others and learn more about Britain, sign up for Exploring English: language and culture, which starts September 1, 2014.