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English Learning Outside the Classroom

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Years ago, a friend of mine, an English-language teacher, was on a flight home from Italy with his partner and the cabin crew were going through the motions, pointing theatrically to the emergency exits and explaining what should be placed in over-head compartments. He turned to his partner and said, “Oh that’s interesting. ‘Bagaglio a mano’ must mean hand baggage”. She looked at him in surprise and said, “Are you actually listening to that?”.  

My friend was practising what he preached. He had spent years training students to learn outside the classroom and here was an opportunity for him to do the same and he was going to take it. When we chatted about it later, we realised that as teachers, we were able to recognise learning opportunities outside our lessons but that for others the language happening all around them might appear little more than white noise, we realised that many of our students taking a full immersion course in one of EC’s English Language Centres in one of 24 locations might be missing out on learning opportunities on a daily basis.  

So, where are these opportunities? Well, worry not, here’s a handy little list for you: 


When living in Spain one of my favourite pastimes was the weekly shop. I used to love heading to the supermercado and wandering around the shop checking out the names for everything. I learnt so much on those trips and luckily all the packets had pictures of the food on them so for the most part I could easily so what everything was.   


Signs are a fantastic opportunity to learn. When living in South Korea, I used to walk around my local area and practise the alphabet, making sure I could recognise all the letters and trying to sound out the signs. I didn’t understand them all but soon I was more confident with the alphabet. In English, watch out for modal verbs and passives like “seatbelts must be worn” or “please wait to be seated”.  

Language Exchange: 

Every city I’ve ever visited around the world has had local language exchange meet-up events in pubs, cafes or on local walks. They’re a wonderful opportunity to try out the language you’ve recently learned. Before I go to these events, I like to plan stories I’d like to tell and language I’d like to use so when I get there, I’m ready to go. It makes me seem more fluent and gives me a real chance to practise what I’ve learnt.  

Texting and Emailing: 

We all know we need to practise our English but it can be exhausting speaking in a second language all day. Starting text or email conversations with people from your class can be a really good way of keeping up the practise after class even if you’re just relaxing and watching a film in your own language. It’s also a nice way of trying out new language from your lessons without needing to think of it on the spot. You have a bit more thinking time so you can plan your messages.  

And don’t forget about the cabin crew on the airplane, you can learn all sorts of language from common situations just like this one. Remember the general script of the conversation will probably be the same in both languages. Use your knowledge of common conversations and listen out for helpful language chunks people use in these situations.  

Try to take advantage of a new learning opportunity today. It’s not just about your lessons, it’s about getting the most out of full immersion. 

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