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Boost your English skills by using your interests!

Have you ever had to take a test or exam that required you to speak or write, in English, about some random topic you weren't interested in? If you did, you probably didn’t enjoy it, nor learn much from it. If you’re not interested in something, your mind will not focus, and no learning will happen. You might be surprised to learn that research validates these experiences. Studies have found that actually being interested in a topic or a learning material helps students learn more. A study found that even if there were things that made a group of students hesitant to talk, they became more willing to speak when the conversation turned towards topics related to their interests or experiences. In other words, bringing your interests into your learning can actually help you! Findings related to the brain help explain why. If students are stressed because they “feel alienated from their academic experiences … when a lesson is boring, not relevant to their lives, confusing, or anxiety-provoking,” the information won’t make it past the amygdala to other parts of the brain for processing and storage. Simply put, if you feel bored or disconnected from your studies, your brain actually gets stressed and stops absorbing information. This means that interests don’t just enhance your learning, they’re actually an important condition for it. How often do we consider our own interests when deciding how to study English? Most of us let our classes, textbooks, and apps decide how we learn. Well, it’s time for us to take learning into our own hands. How to Fuel Your Learning With Your Interests Upper Intermediate and Advanced learners Higher-level learners can delve into interesting content made for native speakers. For example, if you like knitting, watch videos of people who teach it in English and join online forums where people discuss this hobby. It might take some time to find content and communities you truly like, but they are definitely out there! Just don’t forget to be specific about what aspects of English you want to work on. For example, many advanced learners want to perfect their pronunciation or grammar or sound more sophisticated when they speak. Make sure to use your favourite English content and communities to help you achieve those goals! Beginners and Lower Intermediate Learners Lower-level learners will need more support when learning, even with content they’re interested in. This support can come in the form of translations or audiovisual cues. For example:

  • videos that have subtitles in both English and your native language

  • listening materials that have transcripts or are slower in speed

  • reading material with plenty of pictures, such as children’s picture books, comic books, blogs, and social media posts

  • reading materials that are shorter in length or designed for English language learners

You’ll also want to accept that you won’t understand most things. For example, you might not understand all the lyrics of a song, but be happy that you learned a few new words and know that they’ll most likely stick with you longer since you’re learning with content you like! One Last Piece of Advice In any case, tailoring your learning to your interests is more effective if you have someone helping you. As an advanced learner, you may need help figuring out which words in the books you’re reading are actually useful in real life. After all, you don’t want to spend time learning an expression only to realise that it’s only used in that specific book! And as a beginner, you’ll want to know which words or phrases in the movies you’re watching are ones that you should be learning at your level. For example, you probably don’t need to learn words like “exhilarating” when you could just use “exciting” at your level. So it’ll help to have an English-speaking friend who shares your interests or even better, an English language professional who does!,

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