What’s in Your Boat? Take Responsibility to Learn English

By Dr. Ken Beatty

What’s in Your Boat? Take Responsibility to Learn English

Here’s a story: You get a job fishing. Your boss gives you a boat and a net. Now you’re on the ocean and you notice a hole in your boat–you’re sinking! There are materials and tools to fix the hole, a lifejacket, and even a flare and a whistle to signal for help. But you say to yourself, “My job is to fish I’m not paid to worry about sinking boats!”


It’s a silly story because it ignores a key responsibility in life: If you can help yourself, do it! But many students learning English don’t take that responsibility. They say, “It’s the teacher’s job to teach me. My only job is to show up to class. If I fail, it’s the teacher’s fault.”

Don’t be that student. If you want to achieve success in learning English, you need to take responsibility to learn English.

Here’s a list of tips and strategies to help you become a better English language learner.

1 Learn from mistakes

When you get your test or assignment results, check your grade. If it’s 100%, congratulate yourself. If you scored less, take time to see what you could have done better. Make notes on how to improve next time. Write the assignment again.

2 Make learning personal

Keep asking yourself, “How does this relate to me?” Don’t take no for an answer. Imagine how you could use the language or grammar at some point in the future.

3 Improve your listening

There are countless online English podcasts. Search podcast and a topic that interests you, like ballet, baseball, or bears. Download a show. Listen to it like background music while you do other things, like washing dishes. Listen several times, each time trying to better understand what’s being said.

4 Improve your speaking

Look online to a short advertisement, story, news article, speech, or poem. Listen and use your phone to record yourself reading it. Compare your recording to the original, focusing on pronunciation, fluency, volume, and tone. Repeat until you can say it perfectly.   

5 Improve your reading

Read a paragraph, turn away from the page, and write a note summarizing it. Check the paragraph again. Were you accurate? Over time, this activity improves your focus, memory, and note-taking skills.

6 Improve your writing

Write an alphabet worth of paragraphs or stories. Start by writing about a topic beginning with the letter A, such as apples, alligators, or airplanes. The next day, write another with the letter B, but try to include your A word as well. Keep going until you reach Z. Share what you write with other students. 

7 Set goals

Your long-term English goals may be to complete a course or pass a final test. But you also need short-term and medium-term goals. A short term goal might be to make a mini-dictionary of all the language you need to talk about your favorite sport. A medium-term goal might be to have a five-minute conversation in English.

A mix of goals for different English skills helps you constantly experience success.

Choose the strategies that are most useful and interesting for you. Ask yourself, “Which strategies do I want in my boat?”

Ken teaches teachers and writes textbooks. His most recent books are in the LEAP series and he is Series Consultant for StartUp. He’s given hundreds of teacher-training sessions and conference presentations in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, England, Guatemala, Honduras Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, the USA, and Vietnam.