Study vs. Learn & Why Textbooks Are Wrong?

Texbooks and schools are often full of “studying a language.” But really, is teaching students to study English really what you want to do? Check out the video below!

What do you think? Answers in the comments please!

P.S. Here’s the same video in Japanese, to show your colleagues and to also show that I actually walk the walk and not just talk the talk!

(If you’re on email and can’t see the videos, click here to see them online!)

Richard Graham

Hello, I'm Richard Graham. And when I was a kid I found school to be sooooo boring... So I transformed my way of teaching. I listened to what the kids were really wanting to say and taught it in ways they really wanted to learn. The results were magical. So I'm sharing it all with you now...

56 Responses to “Study vs. Learn & Why Textbooks Are Wrong?”

  1. sussie

    True, but still to learn we need to study…
    Then of course there are different ways of studying and strictly following the textbook probably isn’t the best!
    BUT, as long as schools stress skills like perfect spelling and grammar, how can we not teach it?

  2. richard

    Hi Sussie, thanks for writing in!

    Sussie said: “True, but still to learn we need to study…”

    I completely and totally 100% disagree! 🙂 The majority of people who learnt a 1st, 2nd, 3rd or even 4th language did it with absolutely no study at all. On the other hand the vast majority of people who study a foreign language (i.e. just about everyone who has ever been to school) never learn to speak it!

    Sussie said: “BUT, as long as schools stress skills like perfect spelling and grammar, how can we not teach it?”

    As Ken Robinson said the the other day, every country in the world is currently reforming their education system. It’s up to us to make the politicians know how it should be changed!

  3. Steve T

    Hi Richard,

    I agree that we need to change our mindset. The whole purpose of learning a language is to USE it. We want to communicate and the new language is a key providing access to a whole world of experiences.

    Unfortunately many students ‘study’ a language only because it is a requirement or a stepping stone to getting somewhere else. They don’t have a great deal of intrinsic motivation to learn it, their teachers can’t even speak it well so they just focus on the grammar and convert English to Maths which they are good at ie S + V = blah blah blah. I have seen lessons which look like high level calculus but on closer examination realise they are actually supposed English learning activities!!

    English textbook writers and English schools have been able to convert what should be an interactive experience to a solo experience. Everyone feels successful when they ace the multiple choice English exam which is weighted 3 times that of the speaking component. You can ‘study’ English on your own which is easier because ‘learning’ English means third parties are involved and that makes things tricky. 🙂 It is an amazing marketing technique that will keep students studying forever. Unfortunately the world is becomming increasingly more selfish so the concept of ‘studying’ English is more appealing. It is all about ‘me’. But where’s the fun? You can study something forever – I have a friend who studied earthworms for 4 years for his degree. I’m disappointed he didn’t spend a few more years and get the PhD as well. He could have ‘learnt’ about earthworms in a much shorter time.

    Too often these days a language learning component is just a requirement to pass the course or it’s the flavour of the month. Would you believe I even saw a school advertising ESPERANTO classes in Cambodia – I mean who are going to meet up with at the supermarket for a cosy chat in ESPERANTO? – It was probably taught by a 120 yr old long bearded teaching guru. (By the way you can enrol for this course on my website…. :-)Can you please do some Genki activities for me?)

    I’ve discovered that an increasing number of English language students are able to blitz native English speaking teachers when it comes to hardcore grammar analysis but who cares if they can recite Swan’s Bible of English Usage. Does it matter if there is a rare exception to the rule in the use of the 3rd conditional?

    I strongly believe that English language schools main purpose is to make money and it is to their advantage to keep students in the system. What is the benefit if students leave in 6 months with great communication skills? Course of often full of fluff and when students try to gauge each other’s progress they ask questions like “I’m halfway through Headway pre-intermediate. Which book are you up to?” The language learning experience has been converted to a ‘let’s complete the Headway of Cutting Edge series’ and we’ve achieved something.

    I’m sure that if every school across the world suddenly introduced Esperanto as ‘the’ language to learn people would go mad over it, schools would open up on every street corner and there would perhaps be little thought as to WHY? Sadly, I strongly believe that only a very minute fraction of the apparent 100 million students ginvest their hard earned funds to study or learn English will walk away decent communication skills. I feel the world’s English language learning system could be likened to playing the pokies. Most will lose but it’s the few winners that keeps everyone playing.

    Time to hit the books and do some serious Esperanto study!!!! 🙂

    Cheers,
    Steve

  4. Steve T

    disclaimer: I typed my previous response at hyper speed hence the number of missing words, spelling mistakes and no doubt grammar mistakes. 🙂

    I love learning languages, teaching English and watching my students’ progress from speaking zero English to being able to communicate with confidence in a social setting in a few months.

    That’s what it’s all about. Breaking down barriers and learning from each other.

    Good on you Richard. Your Genki English materials are great – I have to admit that not all songs sound as polished as others but at the end of the day, who cares – no kids will pull us up. They just want to speak with their friends and the high level study will come later if that’s what they want.

    Cheers
    Steve

  5. Donny (long live Indonesia)

    You are right, Richard. I am learning to speak English now. I’ve been learning it for some time and I guess I can communicate with people from other countries with little difficulty. But then, when i wanted to apply for a scholarship, I had to be tested on my grammar and things in TOEFL or TOEIC. So, i guess if someone wants to speak English, so he can just learn it. But when someone wants to do other than that so he must study and learn it at the same time : )

    PS: I love your GenkiEnglish and I ve been using the activities there.

  6. Teresa Tamaki

    Hey Richard… nice one!

    I believed you. You’re right! Though, these two words were one and the same, the end result is different. Learning is to achieve what you are studying but very true also that one can learn without studying.

  7. Carol

    IN order to speak a language you first learn it, by hearing it and reading helps alot too (input).

    At higher stages of learning, it is then possible to study the language for passing grammar tests. All children learn their native tongue and then study it. Why not first learn a good base and then if the need is there to study it?!

  8. Martina

    Hi there everyone!
    I think the blog entry is very interesting and I am with Richard on the learning a language thing, but I thought you were going to criticize textbooks more, which is always fun. What is it about textbooks that is so hindering or frustrating? Why are students and teachers so stuck with it? How can you convince that real use is more important than filling in the blanks? I think Steve makes a good point when he says that students are so focused on their progress in books nowadays. It’s like a never-ending story, but he also says that many just do it as a requirement, which is sooo true! But even so, if you use real English in the class, help them be real communicators, the class will be great and interesting. I am a real supporter of talking about what interests students, discussing topics, etc…with English just being the medium, not the focus of study.
    I think GenkiEnglish is a real step towards that on the children’s level, combining themes in an exciting way, even though my hardest battle is still convincing parents that playing games and actually using the language is more important than having a “full textbook” at the end of the course.

  9. Carolina

    I totally agree with you, Richard!! And here we can refer to the difference between learning and acquisition. Our aim should be acquisition. Obviously, input is very important and who’s the first source of input? yes!!!! the teacher!! I also agree with Steve 100% and add that sometimes -and depending on the purpose- we do need to study a language. I remember actually memorising all those awful phrasal verbs for my final exams at the Teacher Training College. Here the purpose was to become “masters” of the langauge because we were to be teachers of English. Richard, I adore your Genki site and all the stuff in it!!! Keep it up!

    Cheers,
    Carolina

  10. Margit

    WoW!

    I was first of all surprised about so many comments from so many “new” people. That’s fun.
    I was surprised because I wasn’t moved by this topic that much . I actually realized for the first time that we say “study a language”. (in English or Japanese)
    In German you only use “study” if you go to university, otherwise you “learn” and especially languages you “learn”.

    I “learned”many languages (ala German way), but I would say even “learn” isn’t really right, but we should just “speak” the language.

    What needs to be “learned” or remembered ” are words, the rest is just speaking.

    I studied Indonisian language and Japanese at University and it was a mess. (4 years) I couldn’t speak or understand. After a break I gave it a try, learned about 500 words and went to Indonesia for 2 month. I refused any English and as people are really open and talking a lot I was able to copy with everything after 1 week in the end I had made many friends and was pretty fluent.

    With Japanese it was like this as well.

  11. Lines Rodríguez Blanco

    True. I would like to be as good teacher as you are. I totally agree with you. If you want the students to learn English you have to sing, to speak in English, to play, to do everything in English but in the same way you do. For instance if I teach grammar they are not going to speak in English, they are going to learn grammar.But if I sing your songs with my pupils ( When, when, when…, do you have any brothers or sisters…)and then I ask them to invent a new song with their favourite music, they sing it in the English class and we repeat it, OF COURSE they are learning English and they are going to comunicate in English.And it’s great the way you teach. I would like to have and to meet a techer like you in my city (PONFERRADA, SPAIN) because also I have been teaching for along time I need to learn how to be the perfec teacher.
    But, I teach in a primary state school(The gobern pay me), and after primary, my students go to high school and the first exam they are going to do is a writing grammar text and vocabulary, so I want my sudents pass this exam and also I want that they think I’m a good teacher, because they are going to have good marks in their exam. But you are better teacher than me and now I understand why Japoness people speak English better than Spanish people, because they have teacher like you.
    You are the best. Thank you for being there.
    LINES from PONFERRADA

  12. Lines Rodríguez Blanco

    My students like a lot your songs and after playing and singing them, they invent their songs and we have fun in our English class.

  13. Amri

    Hmm, I must say that I have tried different methods in the past few years and when I learned something from my students is that lessons with books always end up being boring or they still are not sure about how they can use the things they learned in the book in real life. 2 very nice examples. One child was studying English for over 1 year before I got him. So he knew quite some words, but he couldn’t use them AT ALL. Neither did he understand whole sentences really, nor could he make sentences on his own. I saw the method they used in school didn’t help him at all somehow so I just did it y own way with Genki and now he is even writing letters with one of the other Genki teachers, writing whole sentences and letters.
    The second student, she “learned” English in school for many many years. She was able to make maybe 3 sentences. I find that is pretty interesting how you can go to school, study English for 7 years and then you can’t even make an own sentence. I prefer to learn according to the students needs and am forming my lessons like that. It is really rare that I use a textbook and if I do, I use the text in there for 5 minutes and the rest are things I made up in my head or any other projects dealing with the subject. I think it is essential to really practise the language as it is. Penpals are always a great way, the internet gives you plenty of resources and opportunities. I just learned that with that methods my students learned how to speak and write own messages more than they did before with the simple textbook classes. Unfortunately some schools make you having to use textbooks. There I really love the speech of I can’t remember who (was on TED and Elizabeth sent the link). The person there talked about a revolution that is needed when it comes to teaching. And I couldn’t agree more when I look at how my own students evolve (I’m lucky that I’m not stuck to any books, actually students prefer not having to go with books but to have lessons tailored to their needs – no atter if adults or kids). Well, just my own experience 😉 maybe other teacher have other experiences …

  14. Steve T

    I like to give my students a notebook and get them to chronicle their learning from their first lesson. They right down new words and phrases they learn as they go about their daily lives. We learn what we ‘need to know’ and not the order suggested by Headway et al. It is interesting to see the words and phrases that come up – they are different for each student because their learning depends on their daily activities, their exposure to the language, what they need to accomplish etc Allocating time in class to assist with these words / phrases makes the learning experience more realistic and purposeful. And whatever they have learned can then be expanded on exponentially through additional phrases, synonyms, antonyms, slang vs format etc etc

    The students’ experiences become the ‘textbook’ and this encourages a buzz of communication.

    Cheers
    Steve

  15. Steve T

    sorry I am sick with the flu and didnt proofread the previous message.

    ‘right’ = ‘write’ 🙂

    cheers

  16. syed raza

    it’s truth that books are using in school,but not exactly.books are only suggestion to learn but not proper way!!

  17. cengkeh

    I like the word there, “super easy”. that’s the keyword.

  18. Anita

    Since I introduced the Genki method in my classes a few months ago, my students are always smiling, alive, and asking for more. Their spoken English is improving in leaps and bounds and soon they will be able to carry on a simple conversation! It is truly amazing how quickly they internalize the words and concepts through song and games.
    I always thought that the only way to learn a language was with lots of “elbow grease”, that is, memorizing lists of verbs, all the exceptions to the rules, etc. That’s how I had to learn French and it took me seven years in school and college to reach some sort of a high level of reading and speech.
    Thank you so much for all the ideas and games you’ve provided me with so far. I am sorry that I am not yet able to buy the whole package but I am so inspired with everything. You have changed my whole attitude towards teaching!

  19. Olga Vladymyrova

    Suusie, “Learn, NOT Study” that is the aim of our students and that what I think Richard means. They want o learn, and very often our students learn things without studying, without being taught. So, I would like to thanks Richard about concluding such a clear aim “Learn, NOT to study”.

  20. Mary

    “Practice makes perfect ”
    But here’s the PROBLEM, I can practice speaking English with my kindergarteners , elementary sch. Students by role playing, games etc. What about middle n high school st. ?? They r so shy, feeling unsure , so it’s so hard to make them speak .
    I’ve tried many things, n my methods didn’t help much 🙁

  21. Seth

    Why I always can’t see video on Genkienglish? another way to search this video?

  22. richard

    Hi Seth,

    It’s because of China banning Youtube. Ask around your friends, they will have a way around it!

  23. sandra

    Ican just say the way that we all are teaching has some problems I hope we Ameliorate our methods of teaching

  24. Mary

    Hi Richard,

    your suggestions really help me in teaching. you got it, I agree that language is not sth wich requires teaching. your suggestions are really helpful. Honestly I’m wet behind the ears in teaching but with you and your help I’m sure I’ll be a great teacher in no time.
    Thanks again

  25. chrissy weinhart

    Hi Richard!

    LEARNING is gaining knowledge

    STUDYING is pursuing knowledge

    P:S: Don’t know anyone who says they are studying English – unless they can speak the language and are now at University studying the language.

  26. olga

    Hi Richard, here in Russia we teach english to prepare kids for certificate exams in high school. Majority of parents are concerned with their child`s future exams in English and their only wish is to see an A or at least a B in the certificate…But what`s after that? Yong people with excellent marks realise they can`t USE the language and they are looking for a private teacher to help them really LEARN it! Some clever parents have been coming up to me recently asking to teach their child not to do tests for exams or some certificates but for LIFE. I teach at school now but I really don`t like the system and I`m thinking of starting some genki english class for progressive thinking parents and kids. Thanks a lot for your ideas Richard! Unfortunately I can`t buy the whole set may be i`ve missed something but is it possible to get 1 or 2 CDs? Take care

  27. richard

    Ah yes, it is sadly the same in most countries in the world! Luckily, if you start teaching Genki English then the kids not only learn English for life, they also tend to do really well in exams too! Which is pretty cool!

    Individual CDs you can find part way down this page: http://genkienglish.net/creditcard.htm

    Enjoy!

  28. Suha

    Hi Richard,
    I totally agree with you. Learning is easier when to hear than studying, why? Because when you ask someone to study, s/he will react unhappily. Studying is a word that means exams for students; exactly means a burden! However, it is much easier when you encourage your students, even your children at home to learn any subject by practicing new vocabulary items through conversations, games and songs.
    Thank you very much Rechard for the nice, beneficial materials you provided us. I got benefit of many of your lessons on Youtube and the games you always email us with.
    Suha

  29. Stephen

    Great interesting comments from everyone. I like to subscribe to the best lesson is when the students do not even realize they are learning type of lesson. I think this is epitomized by the Genki English teaching method!!!

  30. Éva

    Hi Richard,
    I totally agree with you! Great video! I’m sure that I don’t tell my students to study. We just enjoy and use the English language. We also love GENKY English – GREAT! Thanx very much! Éva from Hungary

  31. samira

    hi Richard
    I learn english to communicate with different peoples,
    and i got benefit of many of your lessons
    thank you ^^

  32. Tatiana

    Hi Richard and everyone,
    I love GENKI ENGLISH and I absolutely agree that we should learn the language. I enjoy teaching my kids with songs and games, but I am not sure what result I should have. We sing and play games and read and talk but I feel that my children’s English is not as good as I’d like it to be. May be there is something else that I don’t know?..
    I also think that learning should not always be fun. It should be difficult sometimes for children to learn how to overcome difficulties.
    And one more problem that I have is motivation: children enjoy learning sometimes but the more they grow up the less motivated they become.

  33. richard

    Hi Tatiana,

    Having a very clear idea of the results you want is one of the most important things.

    Have a long sit down with a nice cup of coffee and really plan what you want to achieve with all the classes you offer.

    Without knowing where you are going, we just end up in the same spot year after year (i.e. the lack of motivation problem)

    But a concrete goal properly set is a goal half way reached. You will be amazed at how much more you can achieve with a clear path and Genki English to help you get there! 🙂

  34. susana

    Hello Richard,
    This is a tricky one!Learning is better than studying…like listening is better than hearing.Love your suggestion about sitting down with a cup of coffee and really planning lessons.
    take care

  35. Niloc Deeps

    Hi Richard,
    This is happening so much recently – you’ve managed to put into words what I have been thinking for years!
    I opened a school in Thailand a couple of months ago and put a sign outside that said, “Don’t come to study, come to learn!”. I had to take it down because I was spending so much time trying to explain it that I had no time to do anything else.
    All kids in Thailand say, “I must study very hard.”. If you ask them, “How do you study?”, they go quiet or say, “I read a book.” – which they don’t!
    Btw, I’m trying to find a friend with a credit card so I can get the download pack asap.
    Cheers

  36. marianne

    that makes the whole difference

  37. Samriang

    Hello Richard,
    I agree with you. I think we can learn everywhere that we want. Studying from textbook made my students bored. So I use game, song, or funny activity in my class. I think I can do it and try again.
    Take care

  38. Martin Wenzel

    This is the trickiest part of teaching in a TRAINING school setting in China (i.e. after school program, EXTRA English work or jumpstart work). For most of us foreign teachers in these kind of schools we follow whatever material the school makes us teach, but our main focus is always having fun with the kids while learning to use some English. I’ll explain the tricky part. Some parents do just want their kids to enjoy picking up the language (like daycare with some learning and fun), other parents want their kids to be able to “perform” (i.e. sing and dance Twinkle Twinkle or some other “English” song or give an introduction of themselves using complex English that the kid has memorized and spits back out during a competition), AND then you have the parents that treat the training school English as a supplement (though I’m not sure that is the best word) to the REGULAR school (Chinglish) English classes and tests.

    I love the first category of parents because they seem to have more realistic expectations for their kids learning a second language.

    The second category of parents bug me, because to them English is just a performance skill like dance or playing an instrument (which I suppose it could be, except recitation isn’t really thinking or showing much skill beyond having solid memory skills).

    I appreciate what the third category of parents want, but it is impossible to do if you are using a whole different book series and English curriculum than the regular schools. Parents have complained about this to the school director. I mean, it would be nice to use the same material as the regular schools or at least follow closely to the material they are covering if that is what the parents want and we can provide extra practice and expansion beyond what the Chinese teachers can provide.

  39. Johnny

    I write English textbooks, and I just battled it out with my boss over starting beginners with picture descriptions in the vein of, “Johnny drinks water.” because it’s so awkward to say it that in “normal” English. I think she’s coming around.

    As an avid language learner with a background in Japanese and now studying Korean casually, if I open a book that immediately starts out teaching the high-formal forms, I close it. After 5 years of classroom Japanese I was completely unable to talk in the informal forms and found myself 95% useless in Japan. In formal situations, I was perfectly fluent, but the variation is incredible.

    So yeah, language books are often wrong because they start from some awkward “basis” of grammar instead of diving right into the actual forms that are used, arguing that they are “too complex for beginners”. Babies figure it out pretty quickly.

  40. Alla

    I absolutely agree that there is some difference between studying and learning. Anyway I am sure that you can’t achieve good results in anything, languages or sports or science without working hard. My task is to make this hard process of studying more interesting.I always recommend my students to watch movies in English with English subtitles and to read books and magazines in English.It really helps.

  41. Susan K

    Esperanto may be obscure, but I heard about a dad teaching his son Klingon as a second language during the first few years of his life!! (Well, it would stand out on a CV!) The linguist d’Armond Speers isn’t a Star Trek fan but he wanted to see whether the child would learn it like any human language- which of course he did with good pronounciation – but, here’s the interesting part, his son quickly lost interest in speaking Klingon when he realised it didn’t have an application in real life – apart from his dad, no-one was speaking it around him. I learnt a lot more during my year abroad than the other three years at university because I was immersed in the language and felt a real need to learn it. Then when I first came to Turkey I was mainly just listening, when I had a basic vocabulary I could get the gist of a conversation and it gradually got clearer. Apart from one grammar book which I looked at occasionally, I got fairly fluent without any study. I was never keen on studying at school, so the idea of travel and picking up languages appealed to me (I think I learnt more French during a three-week stay in Dijon than 5 years at high school!). The best motivation for a child to learn a language is to go to the country where it’s spoken or at least meet native speakers. When I pick up my 6 year old from school we always speak English and his friends are really curious saying they want to speak like him and they want him to teach them English.

  42. Eduard

    Hello everybody. I’d like to say we have to study whatever we want to know, although we have many opinions about it. Of course I can’t say we don’t have to learn it, we have to learn, without it we won’t be able to achive the success. It’s the key of success, I mean learning and studying as well.

  43. Lidiia

    Richard, you’ve reminded me the idea I’ve met before – we don’t study how to ride a bike from books. We just try, fall, stand up and try riding again. So, I agree with you – we should use what we learn.
    On the other hand, to be a real master of English we should watch a lot of videos, read loads of books and check the meaning of the words in a dictionary. Is it learning or studying?

  44. Narno Díaz y Pérez

    about studying vs. learning, I have to say that I’ve been on both sides of the fence, as a teacher my objective is for my students to learn to use English, and I can do that just with especial classes in private, the problen is that the federal institutions in my country, talking now about being a teacher in a public school, give us some programs that we have to follow, and they even send supervisors to check if we are following them, and also the test they do to students are 100% grammar, so most of the time we find ourselves doing what is not fun. What I’m doing now is to try to mix both with some games so is not that boring for the students. I think they see us like police grammar or something like thath. I agree 100% with Richard,Learning should be our priority, now as a student of English I studying hard to learn the other stuff.

  45. hilmi

    I think that learning for example a language is to put in it in to practice in other words ,trying to communicate with it .

  46. TatianaD

    I was tought to write and to translate in my childhood. But I hardly was able to answer the simplest question what was my name. So I couldn’t speak. My teachers didn’t not teach me speak. And it was reaIy hard for me to switch from writing to speaking. But when a child just has been born, first of all he has been learning to speak his native language, not to write letters, not to read. The same thing is happening with the foreign language. I think that my students are more lucky than me. They already can answer the question: How are you? My name is …)))

  47. Vesna

    Well,
    first I don’t want to write a book about it. I just want to say that teachers should teach their pupils How to learn a foreign language, and not to make it boring and complicated. Most of them demand studying rules, rules, But teachers don’t realize; The rules are easily and fast forgotten. Once they are forgotten, there is nothing left in their head. Not a single sentence !

  48. eliaser ndiholetate

    Hi Richard
    I agree with you. We can learn English in different ways , by either from communicating with people at high institutions, reading newspapers, magazines, textbook(fiction and non-fiction books.) I like enjoying studying English and I have a will to improve my academic in order to succeed in my study. I want to speak English affluent.

  49. Amina Khalfi

    learners must learn to practice English so that to grasp it as a skill, and be good at it. It must be seen a fun thing to do, rather than being forced as a boring course they must take and memorise in patterns, and rules
    I go with ” Learning English

  50. despina vardas

    I totally agree with you Richard! after attending your workshop in cyprus,
    I am already applying all those ideas and tips you gave us! i am also planning a talk to parents about learning the language and not studying it!
    thank you so much!
    despina vardas

  51. EVA G. CASTELLÓ

    Hello Richard,
    I couldn´t agree more¡¡¡¡¡ I do really have problems with the Young learners groups as the academy is focused on the Cambridge English exams and the lessons are 1’30 minutes with one group and 2 hours minutes long with other groups. The kids don´t like the book, some of them don´t even know how to write properly, so I tried to use body expression and games to make it more fun. That´s the best I can do to get my pupils into significative learning. Focusing just on books and grammar rules is helpless¡¡ for most of them. It´s a bit painful for me as I would like them to learn how to express themselves in English¡¡

  52. Irina

    Studying skiing sounds funny! I’ve imagined a skiing coursebook straight away!))) The theory of skiing…

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