Caution – Immersion Only

December 6th, 2009
Maria Joao and Boni

Maria Joao and Boni


Worksheets:  A Sigh of Relief

Maria Joao, from Portugal, and I were discussing how best to learn a language the other day.  She was remarking that she rationally understands that immersion learning is the best, and the fastest, way to learn English, but that she sometimes just really wants to have a worksheet in front of her.  As you know, we hardly ever use them, but on the rare ocasion that we do, she says she breathes a sigh of relief when she sees one in my hand!

That’s interesting, because virtually all of our clients claim to hate worksheets.  They find them tedious, boring, and generally not so beneficial.  They can learn the lessons on the worksheets, but find they don’t use the lessons in practice.  Yet, sometimes, as with Maria Joao, you can almost feel their relief when we hand a worksheet to them.

Most Adults Love Structure

I think that some of this has to do with our need for structure.  Adults, especially, like order, rules and structure.  Even when we say we don’t like it, I think that sometimes having structure forced upon us allows us to relax a bit.

We don’t have to think quite so hard with imposed structure.  Sometimes it is really nice to be told what to do.  It gets very tiring to be using all of our senses, thinking, working, trying to figure out what someone is saying, how to respond to them, how to generate a question. 

How lovely to fill in a blank on a worksheet!  It gives us a degree of security to know that all we need is one simple word to fill in a blank, and then we will be right.  We will have demonstrated that we have mastery over a tiny bit of the frustrating English language.

So, on occasion, to give our clients a break, we do a worksheet or two.  It is reassuring.  It is restful.  It allows them to stop thinking in English, and allows them to think about English.  It becomes an intellectual exercise instead of an intuitive exercise.

Feeling Good

A word of caution, though.  I think it is good to have a sense of the formal structure of the English language.  It gives you something to hang your hat on.  When all else fails, you can think about the language.  You won’t be speaking fluently, but you can stop, think, refer to a lesson, or a point of grammar, and then continue on.  It makes you feel good.

Feeling Better

What makes you feel better, though, is actually speaking English and understanding English.  This is only accomplished with many hours of practice listening to real English being spoken, and of speaking real English with a native English speaker. 

Feeling Best

There is really no short cut.  You just have to dive in, and listen and speak, and listen and speak, and listen and speak, until you think you can’t do it any more.  Then you have to do it some more.  And the more you do at one time, the faster you will learn.

So, use the occasional worksheet if you need to. We do here at the Lake Tahoe Institute of English.  But, focus the majority of your time on listening and speaking.  You will be a far better speaker of English if you do.

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