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Learning English is Like Riding a Bike

Have you ever heard someone say something “is like riding a bike?” For example, “playing guitar is like riding a bike,” or “cooking a dish is like riding a bike?” What this typically means is that once you learn something, you won’t ever forget it. It will always come back to you even if you don’t do it for a long time. Do you know how to ride a bike? If you do, do you think you will ever forget how? Probably not. Chances are you could go 10 years without riding one and the finally get back on one and know exactly what to do. However, there is an additional meaning when I tell students that learning English is like riding a bike.

Although it is often true that language learning is a lot like riding a bike in the sense that what you learn will probably always stay with you and come back to you when you need it, when I say this to students, I am focusing more on the ‘How’ of learning. For example, think about ‘how’ you learned to ride a bike. Did you study the bike for hours and learn all the parts of the bike? Did you watch a bunch of videos of people riding bikes? Or did you just get on the bike with some training wheels and a little help from someone? You learned because you got on the bike. Once the training wheels were removed, you probably fell over a few times. But you kept getting back on the bike. Sure, watching others and studying are essential aspects of learning, but these alone cannot substitute for actually DOING the thing you want to learn.

I always emphasize for students the importance of getting on the bike. At every point in the learning process, you should be getting on the bike. What does that look like? Well, to me it is anything practical that you do that helps to activate your skills in reality. To fully learn English, watch movies, listen to music, participate in a group chat, get a friend and have conversations in English, attend classes, order something on the phone or online, take a personality test, talk to a waiter at a restaurant, go speak to native speakers, etc. The point is to actually DO and HAVE experiences in English. Actually engaging with and using real English is the only way to effectively and actually become better and learn English. Of course, studying the parts and rules of language is helpful and that is what we do often in classes. However, just like with riding a bike, without the practical application of this knowledge, your skills won’t get the exercise they need in order to be useful and grow.

So, the point is to get on the bike. Learning by actually doing is the deepest and most substantial form of learning. If you fall off, get back on. Every time you fall you gain a better idea of what and what not to do. You actually gain more than knowledge; you gain wisdom, as wisdom is knowledge PLUS experience. Here is something for you to think about: Are you riding the bike or just looking at and studying the bike in your English learning? Regardless, in what additional ways could you get on the bike to better enhance your grasp of and ability to functionally use English?

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