Learn English like you learn a martial art.
Don’t try to learn it like you earn a degree. Learning English should be much more about practice than about study. Think practice, not study. That’s my advice. The more familiar you become with the language, the better you will be able to use it. So, it is ‘familiarity’ that you need. That comes from practice alone.
Learning a language has a lot to do with your body of course. Your language learning is about your eyes, your ears, your tongue, your lungs, your vocal chords and your breathing more than it is about your thinking. A language teaching program which does not recognise this will probably slow you down, even stop you from learning. You have to practice with your body.
Good teachers not only have to allow for body awareness and training but support their students in it, for when we make changes in physical speaking habits, we need a lot of confidence to overcome our fear and dullness. This does not mean that language teachers have to focus their activities directly on the body all the time, but they have to consider the body. What I mean by that is that they have to accept the high level of energy that is needed for learning and how to maintain that energy in the practice of the language. Language students need to have the willingness to be active: changing their seat positions in the classroom; working in pairs and groups; and embracing social interaction.
This fact leads us into the main reason why language learning is like a martial art. It is simply this: you have to practice with someone. Ultimately, you have to do it. You may avoid it for a long time but one day it will have to become the main focus of your learning. This one fact separates language learning from every other type of learning except martial arts training. In a martial arts studio, the master will give his students a technique to learn, and the students have to practice that technique with a partner. It is the same with language learning. In a martial arts studio, your partner is very important. He or she is needed to actively help you learn the techniques. It is the same with language learning. Good English language teachers help students to develop good partnerships
Language learning as an adult and martial arts training are like brother and sister. The ‘brother,’ which is martial arts, is about dominance, control and protection. The ‘sister’ is language training, which is about communication, organization and understanding. Although they are brother and sister, they both overlap. In my mind, however, the sister is more useful in this modern information age than the brother. The sister can even provide dominance, control and protection in what has become a communication obsessed world.
Of course, the body is important to both the brother and sister, both physical defense and the speech or language function. I have noticed that martial artists, that is, the advanced ones, or masters, are often very good speakers or, at least, confident speakers. That is because they have removed a lot of fear held in their bodies and their energy is available for their communication.
An obvious example of this is the action star, Jackie Chan. In his movies where he is speaking English, his grammar is terrible and his pronunciation is not very good either. Nonetheless, no one cares, including me. He is a very effective communicator. He really gets his message across to the audience. Why? His body is so well-trained and the wonderful humor of his mind is easily communicated by his speech, which is well supported by a very developed body conditioning. And when he adds a physical gesture or movement to his communication, it is even more effective—truly entertaining!
Whether your starting point is the body, as in martial arts, or the speech function, as in language training, you can end up a very confident person in the world. However, I think from a practical point of view, if you had to choose only one, I would advise you to train yourself in English in the right way, achieving confident and effective speech. At the end of the day, it is simply more useful than martial arts because speech, or the expressive use of your breath, is the main connection between your body and mind. It can shape your effectiveness in the current society more directly and thoroughly.