Spent Years Learning English Words from Newspapers… Then Burned It All to Ashes!

By Robby

If you are new here please read this first.

Improve Spoken English

A while ago I published an article called Just Because You Have English Textbooks Doesn’t Mean You Possess That Knowledge!  and it was all about the widespread misconception of English textbooks and other printed materials making people “own” that knowledge.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth!

For the most part, English learners would collect all sorts of English books to create an illusion for themselves that they’re doing something in order to learn the language.

And so it happens that a couple of days ago Sachin, who is one of my long-term blog readers, posted the following comment on that blog post:

Robby in my school/ college days I was hopeless in my language skills, my native language, 2nd language (Hindi) and English… all of them.

I had flunk in last two languages 2-3 times and could barely manage to cross 40% in my native language (35% was passing).

During that time I was told to read Editorial of English newspaper and mark difficult words from it, practice it and you will be fluent in English…:=O

I did that religiously for a long period of time, hoping that at some point God will see may efforts and will have mercy on me and turn on the language button which was in off mode since birth.

Honestly I was waiting for miracle to happen but nothing happened for long time…:'(

I had a big file of those editorials and word power. I never heard those words in my daily life….and finally a few years ago I burned those files to ashes… 😀

I have to admit guys – I had a great laugh when reading the last bit in the comment because of the way Sachin put it – “…and finally a few years ago I burned those files to aches…” – I think it sounds hilarious and on top of that, it highlights the problem that so many foreign English speakers have.

Namely – the false perception that they will improve their English by translating little-known words from a highly specialized piece of writing, while in reality all they’re doing is creating wrong vocabulary associations in their minds, that’s all.

Have you had similar experiences to Sachin?

Then share them in the comments section below!


P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System

P.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out the English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System
  • dhoni

    Thank you, Robby.

  • No problem, and if you’ve any more questions – please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me again!

  • dhoni

    Thank you, Robby, you really annihilate all my obstacles, I have seen your youtube videos, then I come with an idea how to pick up vocabularies, which words should learn. I have watched many videos and read articles across this cyberspace, don’t one fit for me, but you simple, perfect and easy. now I start my practice as you said, Thank you a lot.

  • Hi Dhoni,
    Thanks for the comment, much appreciated!
    Now, first things first – you have to understand that reading is a passive activity which doesn’t involve any active input on your part and as such it’s the easiest English-related activity. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying learning to read fluently in English is no mean feat – it’s quite the opposite! I know for a fact that it requires blood, sweat and tears to achieve a high level of reading fluency, but all I’m saying is that writing and speaking are way more difficult than reading for the simple reason that when you read, you don’t CREATE

  • Thanks so much Juhapekka for sharing your experience, I’m sure it will serve as an eye-opener for someone reading your comment!
    Speaking of the teacher – I totally agree with you, she mustn’t have any idea of how ineffective such vocabulary acquisition method was simply because she didn’t know any better! She thought she was doing the right thing and you can’t really blame her on a personal level for that.
    Still, just like you said in your comment, such and similar methods are used in today’s language learning all around the world and my own children are experiencing the same things in school even in this day and age…

  • dhoni

    yeah, i’m here today i’m sucking into this kinda trap, i can understand new words in editorial page without look up dictionary from context, it’s just fine reading but it when comes to writing i can’t write well as if you, please suggest me, i think it’s good ask you, because you also learned english as secondary, but today wrote articles very well, so please learn me on writing from your experience.

  • Juhapekka

    I like books and similar pieces of writings too much that I’d burn them to ashes, but that attitude is at least metaphorically spot on because notebooks full of rare and obscure words with their respective translations in our native languages don’t serve any practical purpose when it comes to our ability to speak. The deceptive thing is that the idea to read newspapers and then to mark difficult words from it sounds like a good idea at first because you learn them in context, but more than likely a learner doesn’t realize that in addition to choosing common enough words, they also should write English only descriptions with their respective collocations to their notebooks and to get rid of translations completely.

    Back then, I didn’t realize how little did I know about learning new words because I, too, remember spending long hours in writing countless lists of English words with the corresponding Finnish translations. I just wrote one paper full of one English-Finnish word pair and then I proceeded to the next paper and to the next English-Finnish word pair. Now it sounds mad and meaningless, but I really wrote the word pair a building-rakennus perhaps one hundred times in a row, for example. It is crazy, isn’t it? I did it because our first English teacher in the elementary school told us to do so. I actually remember that once we had a big vocabulary test and the funny thing is that everyone failed it except one pupil and that pupil wasn’t me. So, we all got detentions or a lazy pupil’s lessons as we say it in Finnish; we simply sat in the class room in writing same English-Finnish word pairs in a row about two hours after the normal school ended. She said that only through hard work and repetions, we can imprint new words into our memory. Since then I had been applying the same method until I stopped it a good few years ago. I can only wonder how much these unfortunate drills have contributed to my fluency issues, but I don’t want to blame her at all because she was a very good and a very dedicated teacher who really did her best that we could learn; I even guess that those kinds of old-fashioned teachers don’t necessarily exist anymore. Certain kinds of old-fashioned, extremely dedicated teachers may be gone, but the traditional methods are unfortunately used in schools and universities as much as in the past.