An Awesome Way of Learning English Prepositions
I have been teaching English for a long time. One thing that I can say with certainty is that there are four main problem areas that even the best speakers struggle with.
I call them the 4P’s, and they are…
1) Present perfect tense – I’ve just seen a hippo in the swimming pool.
2) Phrasal Verbs – The hippo was pretty messed up
3) Pronunciation – Hippopotamus
4) Prepositions – The hippo was under attack by a group of evil cats
Today I am going to help you with the 4th one, prepositions.
Using the correct preposition is hard. Even the most advanced speakers make mistakes with them.
Why? Because there are so many different combinations, rules, exceptions to the rules and situations when they just don’t make sense and blah blah blah.
But knowing any of that won’t help you.
However, the ONE thing that I can tell you that will make your life a little easier when it comes to prepositions is this…
Never ask WHY!
“Why do you use FOR and not TO” or “Why do you say IN for months and ON for days?”
There’s no real logic to prepositions, and if there is, I don’t know it.
So what can you do? Is it possible to learn the correct usage of prepositions without studying them for dozens of hours?
Will you speak perfectly? Probably not. But that’s not important. If you can use them correctly 80% of the time that’d be great. 95%? well, you would be fine teaching an English class at Harvard.
I’m going to show you a very practical and effective way to improve your proposition knowledge. It will take some time, and it’s not automatic (you have to put in some work), but this method will help you naturally improve and get you to a level you will be satisfied with.
And when that happens, you will be a more confident speaker.
What Not to Do
DO NOT try to study and read lists of prepositions and memorize their rules.
Many times students have demanded that I teach them prepositions, so we spent hours going over lists of propositions and rules about when to use each one.
Not only is it extremely boring, but it doesn’t work. Students always forget them, and when they speak they make the same mistakes. It’s a sad situation, and I don’t want you to cry, OK?
Here’s an example of one:
Even though this is a very BIG beautiful infographic, with colors and images and such, I don’t see people really learning from these things.
Everything you see in the chart will be forgotten in minutes.
A Method that Works
From my experience, the easiest and most “pleasurable” way to improve in a language is to put the language into your ears and eyes EVERYDAY through listening and reading practice.
When my best students all tell me they have learned English through watching series, listening to music and reading comic books, I have to believe there is something to that technique that is really effective.
Using the language correctly is all about getting accustomed to how it sounds, then replicating it through speech and writing.
If you’re a polyglot, well then the rules change. You probably enjoy analyzing the grammar and studying word lists. And you also are pretty damn good at it I bet.
But if you need to learn English as a way to improve your life, I imagine you don’t like studying language, and have troubles becoming totally confident and competent.
This tactic can make it almost effortless to use prepositions correctly. You don’t have to sit down and study anything. and you can forget about learning propositional rules and all that boring stuff.
Step 1 – Find a Good List of Prepositional Combinations
I know I said you shouldn’t study lists, and you are not going to. But you do need a reference of correct prepositions and their corresponding words written by a native speaker.
Step 2 – Record the Sentences into Soundcloud
Now you are going to read these sentences into a recording tool (I use Soundcloud).
I would say around 10 sentences is enough for a week. Don’t do too many, as you won’t be able to remember all of them. And if you think about it, 10 sentences a week = 520 a year. That’s plenty!
Simply go the website, www.soundcloud.com, create an account and record. If you want to watch a video on how to do this, go right here.
Now you might be thinking that you should not record these sentences because you aren’t a native speaker. You think that your accent is too strong, correct?
Well I have found that hearing yourself speaking another language is a very powerful way to memorize new content.
Why? Scientifically I’m not sure so sure.
But I do know that when you hear yourself speaking a foreign language, you pay A LOT of attention. It sounds strange I know, and we all probably get a little embarrassed. But that’s a good thing!
When we add an emotion to learning, like embarrassment, we try hard to not make the mistakes again. So don’t worry about your pronunciation. As long as YOU can understand yourself, you will be learning the correct prepositions.
Here is an example of how it will look:
Step 3 – Listen to the Phrases Every Day
Repetition is important if you want to really memorize AND use new language correctly.
Fortunately this is EXTREMELY easy. Just download the Soundcloud app to listen to your tracks, or use any other tool and upload your recordings to your phone.
Using Ninja Moments (free moments during your day) you are going to listen to yourself speaking these sentences with preposition combos until they become ingrained into your brain.
I’d suggest at least 5 times a day for a week. Then you can make a new recording the next week, but don’t forget to review previous recordings.
Step 4 – Use these Sentences in Speaking and Writing
To fully integrate new words and structures into your permanent English “database,” you have to use it in real situations.
After you spend a week listening to your phrases in your phone, you are ready to practice with them. There are several options for this:
1) Use them with your teacher
2) Have short, very effective conversations on Cambly
3) Write sentences and get them corrected (for free) on www.lang-8.com
4) Use them in Skype Speaking Missions
I teach my coaching clients how to take advantage of online resources for authentic speaking practice. The objective is to show them how to see fast results in their English by using methods that are fun, innovative and inexpensive or free.
Before your conversations, do this: take the sentences you’ve made and create questions and different sentences with them. Then use them is a conversation and make sure the teacher corrects you if they are incorrect.
And that’s it!
Of course, there’s no magical method and you will have to do some work. But what I have developed here is a system that can help you gain confidence in your English abilities while still maintaining your normal routine and avoiding boring English courses and lessons.
Think of it like fitness training: building daily habits based on repeatable actions.
Learn prepositions naturally without studying them and trying to learn rules and all that nonsense. Record yourself speaking correct sentences focusing on learning the prepositions used in those sentences.
Because to really conquer English, you should have a good understanding of prepositions and use them correctly most of the time. However, NEVER think you need to speak perfectly and don’t get too frustrated if you make mistakes.
1) Download my list to get started. After you’ve completed that you can find your own content
2) Record around 10 sentences into SoundCloud or any other recording software or app
3) Listen to the recordings every day, for a week, then make a new one
4) Find someone to practice your sentences with, either through speaking or writing practice
That’s it! Now get to work.