I recently had the chance to chat with Léa, from the website and YouTube channel Léa English. Léa, a fellow polyglot and language enthusiast, and I talked about a variety of topics, including Léa’s best tips and favorite tools to learn English, and how traditional learning methods like paperback notebooks can go hand-in-hand with more modern tools. Plus, she shared her observations about the biggest obstacles English learners face, from a language teacher’s perspective.
Interview: Modern vs. Traditional Learning Methods with Léa English
Even if you aren’t learning English, my conversation with Léa will still be of interest to you! The tips and tools (both modern ones like apps and more traditional learning methods) we talked about apply to any language.
Watch my chat with Léa English right here or on our YouTube channel. If you’re in a hurry, you can read the highlights down below. Don’t forget to come back to watch the full video later.
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Highlights from My Interview with Léa English about the Merits of Modern and Traditional Learning Methods
“Learning a language has to go with working on your mindset, allowing yourself to make mistakes. Stop thinking that people will judge you. Try to embrace failure. It’s not bad. Stop saying “excuse me” when you make a mistake. It’s fine! I mean, I make mistakes too.” —Léa English
Léa: I’m French and I’m an English teacher. I’ve been teaching for six, seven years, and I’m also a polyglot—I speak multiple languages. I speak five languages on different levels. So there’s English, obviously, Spanish, Norwegian, German, a little bit of Chinese.
But I’ve transitioned from being the learner to being a teacher. Now I help my students more than I learn myself. I’ve been focusing on teaching more than learning, but I still try to have one language that I’m learning just to remember how it feels to be a learner. So yes, I keep learning even today.
Luca: I think it’s very useful, when you are a teacher, to remember the struggles and the difficulties… how it feels. Today, when you speak English and you are quite comfortable with it you can forget that at the beginning it was very hard and you struggled a lot. So I like to put myself in the shoes of a learner from time to time, and of a beginner, because at the beginning it can be quite scary.
What tools does Léa English personally use to learn languages? What tools does she recommend to her students?
Léa: I like to listen to podcasts. It’s a great way to do something and to soak in the language while you’re doing something, so it’s quite efficient. I also read books in English, non-fiction books for my business. Instead of learning something in French, which is my mother tongue, I prefer to read in English. I have to admit that I’m also on Netflix a lot, but it’s a great excuse because it’s learning… it’s something useful. I also like to write down like a gratitude journal, write down my goals and what happens during my day, in English.
And what I recommend to my students to use is… so, everything that I said before. Of course, Netflix, podcasts… I also spend a lot of time on YouTube, watching tutorials and motivational videos for everything. And I also recommend my students watch TED conferences, use apps like MosaLingua. I also like the app called Blinkist. You can listen to summaries of audiobooks in 20 minutes. So it’s more like a podcast, but you have the transcript.
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Luca: So, you launched this notebook to help people learn English. When I started I was using notebooks, paperback methods, and so on, like 14 years ago. Now, there are all these apps and online tools. Why do you think that today it’s still a good idea to use a paperback notebook?
Léa: I think a lot of paper methods are really old, traditional learning methods, and most of them struggle to be up to date and to change according to the way people are learning now. They don’t take into account that now you have Netflix, you have YouTube, you have apps. So either you use this method because you are really old-fashioned or old-school, or you like to have something really structured, you like to learn grammar and stuff.
But I don’t think that most of the methods that are available are really suitable for people who like to be online and have a notebook. Either you have a notebook and you follow what they say, or you use apps and online materials.
The notebook I created is a tool to combine what you have online, what you can have on your phone, and also have something physical. It’s nice to have what you learn written somewhere on paper because you can go back to it, you can read out loud, you can use different methods to memorize the words.
What I try to do with my book is have something that will help you use apps, videos, audio content, and mix it into a paper method. So you have to listen to audio, you have to watch videos, because you need to hear the language, but having something on paper helps you put all these things together.
Léa: One idea, and what I chose to do in my notebook, is prompt journals. (And this is not just for learning English. It’s to be a better human being, a better person.) Every day you have questions like: what are you proud of today, what have you learned this week, what are your top 5 goals, things like that. What I like about this is that it helps you to create the language, create sentences to speak, but in an easier way.
When you have apps, you watch videos, and you listen to audio content, you will learn a lot of words and expressions. But if you never use them, you will forget them. Journals help you to memorize and use what you learn. You will listen to podcasts, you will use an app, you will learn vocabulary, and when, in the evening, you answer your prompt journal question, you have to remember: “So, what expressions did I learn today?” Or, “What words did I learn last week?” And maybe you were not sure about the definition, about how to use it, so that’s also a great moment to stop and look up the words in the dictionary and just collect all the words in one place.
Léa: I always tell my students that the level you have now is the result of what you’ve done for the last 3 or 6 months. So if your English is not that good now, it’s not because you will learn for two weeks that you will be great. So, you have to wait to see the results.
If you start with a boring method, or something you don’t like, or something that is stressful, you will not last and you won’t see the results. You have to enjoy what you do, otherwise there will be self-doubt. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing you won’t last more than a few weeks and you will stop. You will give up and you will think that you are the problem, but the problem is the method you use. Because maybe it’s not because the method is bad. It’s just because you don’t enjoy it. That’s the problem.
Luca: What you said really resonates. For some people, it’s very hard to wait for the results. When you’re a true beginner, after 3 months you can really see a lot of results, but some students have a lot of problems for the intermediate plateau. Or even before, when they struggle to go from false beginner to intermediate. Do you have a tip for them?
Léa: What I tell them is, “Always look back.” It’s nice to have an objective—”I want to be fluent,” “I want to speak like Barack Obama,” whatever. But it’s nice to just take stock of what you’ve done. When we sit for a second and then… “Oh, I’m not improving… it’s slow…” “My accent is bad… I don’t have time…” They have all these excuses and they feel that they are plateauing. But the truth is that I think they’re scared. They are at the level when they can start to speak to people and sometimes, saying “I’m not improving” is an excuse to stop speaking to people and being vulnerable. It’s important to look back. I often ask them, “Where were you 6 months ago?”
So, that’s one first thing, and the second is that you have to realize that it’s a journey. I also thought that one day I will stop learning, my English will be just good enough. But no, you never stop. That’s the truth! Even now, today, I still have to improve. My English is not perfect. One day I realized that there won’t be any finish line, when I could say, “Now I stop.” I won’t tell you, “It’s long, it takes time,” because it’s never-ending. It’s a life-long journey, so enjoy the process.
Léa: [At first] I thought, yes, people struggle with grammar… Maybe there weren’t that many effective methods out there. But then I realized that I think the most common obstacle was in the mind. The mindset thing.
When I tried to figure out what was the difference between polyglots and people who were not polyglots, I think the main difference is not the method, the whatever… it’s the mindset. It’s the limiting beliefs. Polyglots know that they will learn. If they succeeded for the first one, they will succeed for the second. Once you learn three languages you know that you can learn any language you want if you take the time and you put in the effort.
What’s the biggest difference between a person who is struggling to learn English and like… Steve Kaufmann who speaks what… 20 languages? The biggest difference is you are constantly telling yourself like you’re bad, your English is bad, French school sucks, our pronunciation is bad. Or, “I’m busy, I don’t have time.” You have all these excuses and all these fears, and I think that’s the biggest obstacle. Shut down all the fears in your head and you will move much faster.
Luca: As I said, I often go to polyglot gatherings and of course, some of them are brilliant. Very, very clever. But the real difference, as you said, it’s the mindset. And also the time that they put in. Languages are part of their life. At the end of the day, if you have the mindset and also the time, you will learn more easily and quickly. Sometimes there is this impression that polyglots are like superheroes, that they’re smarter than others, and I also say, “Look, they are ordinary people.”
Léa: I read a quote the other day: “Action beats perfection.” And I think work beats talent. Even if you’re talented, you can’t learn a language by just sitting in China for two weeks.
I was watching polyglot videos about Lindie Botes, and I was shocked to see that she spent two, three hours or more, sometimes, working on something. I told myself, “Yeah, they must have something special. There’s a secret. It’s easy for them.” Like, they start learning Chinese and, 6 months after that, they speak Chinese. But when I saw her studying hard I realized that it’s not a super talent, or it’s not because she’s a genius. It’s just because she puts in the work. She studies. And it takes time.
Luca: There are also many studies saying that work beats talent. There is a famous rule called “The Ten Thousand Hours Rule.” One scientist found that the top performers in any field are the ones who put a lot of effort and he calculated that you need like 10,000 hours to master any field. Well, it was interpreted in a very controversial way because what he said is not just that you need to study for 10,000 hours, but he wanted to point out that you need deliberate practice.
What he discovered, if we want to sum up, is that top performers are not those who were born like that. Of course, there are some people who have some natural talents, but the top performers in any field, like music, sports, and so on, were the ones who worked a lot to get there. It’s really true that work and practice beat talent all the time.
Léa: Mindset first. If you keep telling yourself “I don’t have time, I’m too busy, my English is bad, I don’t understand what people say…” If you have these limiting beliefs, it’s like tango. You’re going two steps further and then two or three backwards. It’s something that we all overlook. We think that it’s just grammar and words to learn and that’s it. And language is much more than that!
We said that before, but it has to be fun. If it’s a struggle, if you think that it should be like learning irregular verbs by heart, no… Even watching Netflix counts as learning. Some of my students are like, “Yeah, I watch Netflix,” but they feel guilty because they think it’s not hard enough. No problem! If you find something you enjoy, some apps, listening to a podcast, or reading a book, it counts as learning. It doesn’t have to be a grammar textbook.
The last piece of advice is if you are plateauing or you’re not improving, I suggest changing to a new method, a new app… Try to do something different, because if you do what you’ve always done, you will get what you’ve always got. So if you were a beginner relying on easy apps and Peppa Pig, for example, maybe it’s time to transition to something else.
Luca: I really like that you mentioned the mindset. When I was at school, it was so neglected. Nobody was talking about the fear of making mistakes, perfectionism, or that you think people who are fluent in English are maybe gifted or more talented. Sometimes when they ask, “What is different about the MosaLingua method?” I say the psychological part, and also the self-development part. As you said, improving yourself, the mindset, it’s part of the method.
Léa: I learned English first at school, like everyone in France—so… sevenish years. I had this exam, at the end of the year, the baccalaureat, and I had to present something, say my text by heart. That was it. And then I moved to Norway and I hadn’t had any conversations with real people, just in class. I went there and I started to talk to teenagers. I was 20, they were, I don’t know… 15, 12…? They were young. And I started to speak. Oh my gosh… I started to make mistakes. And I remember the first sentence I said was, “I didn’t went.” I was like, “Oh, my gosh… that’s stupid.” “Didn’t went,” this is not correct! And the kid in front (because he was a kid) started to speak so fluently, easily, and I just shut down.
I felt I was good because I had good grades in school. I was super confident, and then I went there and I was so afraid, ashamed. So I decided to start learning Norwegian because I would feel less ashamed to speak a language I was learning than English. So, I totally understand that people feel stressed because I’ve been there, too.
Luca: When you see someone who is good at something you can have two reactions. The bad reaction is to say, “He’s so good, and I’ll never get there… It’s so difficult. It will take ages, or years, to get there…” Or, you see the final result and you use them as inspiration. “Okay, everyone is speaking it, so I’m sure it’s something I can do.” So, once again, the mindset. Let’s use the good example like an inspiration or the final result that we can reach.
Did you enjoy this interview with Léa? Have a look at her website and subscribe to her social media to see more of her work:
If you are a French speaker and would like to try out the revamped traditional learning methods she’s created, check out her notebook here.
I am lucky enough to have met quite a few polyglots and “stars” in the language learning community in the past few years. Through my interviews, I’ve gained some great insights to share with readers like you. If you’d like to read or watch my other interviews in the series, check them out below or on the MosaLingua YouTube channel.
- Interview with Lydia Machova on the Biggest Language Learning Mistakes [VIDEO]
- 2017 Polyglot Gathering Interview with Gabriel Gelman: Learning Two Similar Languages at the Same Time [VIDEO]
- Expert Interview with Benny Lewis on How to Learn a Language Quickly
- Language Immersion Tips – An Interview with Olly Richards
- How to Improve Your Accent and Pronunciation: An Interview with Luca Lampariello
- Hyperpolyglot Elisa Polese on Learning Foreign Languages [VIDEO]
- How Polyglots Learn Languages: 7 Polyglot Secrets for Everyday Learners