Learning Part 9: Deep Learning Revisited (3 of 3)

In the final part of improving your deep learning, I’d like to offer this final technique.

Ask why

If you want to take your English from intermediate to advanced, this is the question you need to be asking.  It is a challenging question for teachers, and the answers you receive will be challenging, and it takes a lot of critical thinking.  You will need a certain amount of experience and confidence in your English abilities before asking this question, so if you are not ready, stick to asking “what” and “how” questions first and, little by little, starting making some “why” questions about the English you feel confident about.

That being said, this is probably the most important question for learners trying to break through “pretty good” to “great” English speakers.  I know many English learners who speak very well and can have conversations, but they don’t seem to improve.  This is often because they are stuck on what works, and don’t make the effort to learn the reasons their English works.  When you can figure out why native speakers say what they say, then you’ll understand English even better than a native speaker, and that will give you an amazing command of the language.

There are many why-questions you can ask, but here are some examples to get you started:

“Why do native speakers say ___ (instead of ___)?”

“Why does this sound formal?”

“Why doesn’t this sound natural?”

“Why is this wrong?”

“Why do you use this tense (instead of another tense)?”

There are many, many more questions you can ask.  Basically, the idea is: any time you learn something useful, interesting or confusing, ask questions!  Did your teacher correct you, but you don’t understand why it was a mistake?  Ask why!  Did you use the wrong word, even though you thought it was correct?  Ask why!  Did your teacher say something you thought was strange?  Ask why she used it!

A quick warning though: don’t go too crazy!  LOL

If you learn something that is not very interesting or useful or you already understand quite well, don’t pester your teacher with very hard questions!  You won’t learn very much and your teacher will get exhausted.

The purpose of this is to further your understanding.  If the answer to your question won’t actually help you communicate, then don’t worry about it.

So, for example, asking why native English speakers use articles is not very useful.  Even if you understand the reason, it won’t help you to actually use them (but asking how to use them is a very good idea!).

On the other hand, asking why your sentence was wrong will be very helpful: if you understand why it was wrong, you can prevent the mistake in the future.

Let me show you an example of a very effective way to use why-questions.

Student: Pardon me?

Teacher: Don’t say “pardon me”, say “excuse me”.

Student: Oh… why?

Teacher: Because “pardon me” sounds too formal.  “Excuse me” sounds more natural.

Student: I see.  Is it bad to sound too formal?

Teacher: Sometimes, it depends on the situation.

Student: Why does it sound bad sometimes?

Teacher: Good question!  Because, in English, when someone is too formal, it sounds cold and unfriendly.  A little bit formal is okay, but too much doesn’t sound good.

And that’s just one way!  Don’t just accept what your teachers say; learn more!  If your teacher gets annoyed with you… well, maybe you need a new teacher!  LOL

But seriously, it’s a tough question, and the answers will be tough as well, but why-questions are the key to learning English as deeply as possible.  Give it a shot next time!  I’ll see you all next week.


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