Learn English without books, homework or stress
An English program designed for people like me
English Evolved is a group of experienced instructors based in the Parque el Virrey area of Bogotá.
We come to your home or office and give you and your friends intensive English courses.
We take you from zero-to-conversational, and ultimately prepare you for the IELTS exam, the exam you need to pass if you wish to work or study abroad.
We have served the following clients
Please read the guide below to see how you can learn English for FREE, or if you're looking for a professional instructor, what we can do to help you.
You know you need to speak English, so what’s stopping you?
“I love the idea of speaking English, but it scares me. I’m so embarrassed about my pronunciation and accent. As soon as I open my mouth, I freeze.
"I’m an educated person. I don’t want people thinking I’m stupid.”
“I don’t know how to advance. I keep making the same mistakes. I’m just repeating the same memorized phrases over and over again.
“I’m tired of wasting my time. Classes are so boring. They use complex grammar that I don’t understand. I just want to speak.”
“I’m tired of wasting my money. I went to a bilingual school, took university courses, and even went to the most expensive institutes in the country. Where did my money go?
"The only way to learn English is to live in a foreign country for years. I can’t do that!”
"It's so hard to find a good teacher. The teachers I’ve had were either boring, inexperienced, or followed an outdated methodology. "
“I have given up. Some people have a talent for languages. I'm not one of them.”
Hi, I’m James Harling. I'm a Canadian trained in languages, psychology and finance, and one of the instructors of English Evolved.
Since I came to Colombia in 2010, I've had one mission: To take any student, whether it be the “natural linguist” or the “lost cause”, and show them that English is easy, and anybody can learn it.
This mission has a special meaning to me because I was one of those lost causes.
I remember what it was like, as a teenager, doing mandatory French classes with a bitter old woman who did the bare minimum until she retired and could collect her pension.
I remember memorizing vocabulary lists by SHOUTING the words to her in unison with the class: “Pomme!”, “Orange!”, “Banane!”
I remember doing pointless grammar exercises and copying verb conjugation tables without understanding what I was doing.
Most of all, I remember how the she humiliated me in front of the other students.
Rubbing salt in the wound, after years of study, I met my first French speaker who asked me, “Parlez-vous Français (Do you speak French)?” I froze. I didn't understand a word.
I felt so stupid. I gave up. I hated languages. I hated school.
Even when I tried, I still failed.
It was only as a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan that I learned the value of languages. Just by being polite and trying to communicate with the Afghans in Pashto, our lives were easier.
We connected more. We got more done.
Seeing that languages could be exciting and useful, I developed this silly fantasy of being a James Bond-like international man of mystery!
With the money earned in Afghanistan, I would travel around the world and intrigue beautiful women with witty banter in the local language.
Tip: Having a silly, yet specific, goal can be more motivating than a serious, yet vague, goal such as "I want more job opportunities".
My fantasy didn't meet reality. I was timid, socially awkward, and even though I liked languages, I was TERRIBLE at them.
A brief resume of my failures:
- Scarred from my experiences in high school, I decided to learn ANYTHING but French. I tried to learn Russian in university. Through hard work, I was among the strongest students in class. It didn't help. After a year, I didn't even know how to form basic phrases like "I want to go to the bathroom".
- Living in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan and Palestine, I studied Arabic. Even though I took classes every day, I was only able to hold a basic conversation. The formal written Arabic we learned in class didn't match the Arabic that was spoken on the streets.
- In Korea, I was insanely disciplined and memorized over 2000 words within a few months using flashcards, and doing grammar drills for two hours a day following a series of textbooks. After six months, I was one of the strongest foreigners I knew. But, because I was MEMORIZING the language instead of UNDERSTANDING it, I had forgotten almost everything.
It goes on. I went through YEARS of trial-and-error, becoming an expert in what DOESN'T WORK. It was only in 2010 that I had "cracked the language code".
The solution was SO simple.
If I had followed this ONE piece of advice, I would've saved so much money. I would've avoided so much FRUSTRATION.
The secret, to learning a language, or anything else, is MODELING.
Modeling is a fancy way of saying: Find a master. Find an expert among the top 1% in the world. Find experts who can learn languages fast. Then, you copy them.
You might be thinking, "Save time by copying experts. That's obvious". But if it's obvious, why doesn't anybody do it?
I didn't! I followed the advice of an idiot. Even though this idiot had no previous success with languages, he believed he knew the best way to learn them. I was listening to myself. That's as crazy as doing your own dental work.
What I SHOULD HAVE done from the beginning is listen to experts, those who speak 5, 10 or even 15 and 20 languages. They know the PATTERNS and SHORTCUTS that cut down the learning process down to months, weeks, or even days.
How experts are different
"Trust your instincts" is USUALLY good advice. For example, if you're an honest person with honest friends and family, your subconscious will detect patterns and give you an INTUITION of how an honest person behaves. So, when you encounter somebody dishonest, your brain will say, "This person doesn't fit the pattern in my database! Danger! Danger!"
There's nothing mystical about intuition. It's nothing more than knowing, without knowing why. However, intuition only works if you've trained it. It only works if you have practiced hundreds and thousands of times.
If you are a beginner and you are learning something complex —like a language or flying a helicopter— your intuition is almost always WRONG.
When it comes to English, don't trust your instincts because what makes experts different is that they do things that are COUNTER-INTUITIVE. They do the exact OPPOSITE of what an amateur would do.
Here are some examples:
Amateurs think you magically absorb a language by living in the country
Leaving Colombia to learn English may be useful, and help motivate you to learn English, but it isn't necessary.
The strongest English I've ever heard was from a girl who had NEVER LEFT COLOMBIA. Her grammar and accent were perfect. If she had told me she were an American, I would've believed her.
In Canada, I remember taking a taxi. The driver was Indian and had HORRIBLE English. It was really hard to understand him. When I asked how long he lived in Canada, he told me, "35 years".
These two scenarios shocked me. I had always believed that if you go to a new country, through osmosis, you would be fluent in the language in six months.
Of course, with a little bit of critical thinking, that doesn't make sense. Jumping in the ocean doesn't make you a world-class swimmer, so why would flying to England make you a world-class speaker?
WHERE you learn is less important than HOW you learn.
The Colombian girl learned because she was ACTIVE. She was reading the grammar books, watching movies, chatting with foreigners on messenger.
Meanwhile, the Indian driver was PASSIVE. After 35 years, he learned SOMETHING. But because he had no interest in mastering the language, he never got better.
Experts know you need to learn ACTIVELY.
Amateurs think you start a language by learning the alphabet and how to read
Experts know you need to put the books away, and start speaking from day one. It makes sense. We all learned how to speak before we learned to read.
Learning to speak first is what will give you CONFIDENCE.
By speaking, I specifically refer to SENTENCE FORMATION, being able to take any idea in your head, and DYNAMICALLY form, in the moment, COMPLETE, CORRECT, and COMPLEX sentences without needing any crutches such as visual aids or a dictionary.
Amateurs are overconfident and underestimate how much practice they need
All the time we get students who say, "I'm intermediate. I don't need to learn the fundamentals." They learn something once or twice and say, "yeah, yeah, I know".
Sure enough, when we give these "false intermediates" the same test we give to our beginners — they freeze. They freeze because they think a language is something that you study, something intellectual.
It isn't. Language is a SKILL. You need to train your mind exactly like you train your body.
Two push-ups don't make you Arnold Schwarzenegger!
You need to practice your English HUNDREDS of times, with perfect speed and perfect technique, to develop MUSCLE MEMORY, where superhighways are being formed in your brain, making it IMPOSSIBLE to forget your English even if you wanted to.
Remember. Amateurs practice until they get things right; professionals practice until they can't get things wrong.
Amateurs think that practice makes perfect
Practice doesn't make perfect. Practice makes permanent. You cannot remove a bad habit; you can only replace it with a good one. If you practice mediocrity, you become an expert at mediocrity. If you learn English the WRONG way, you actually become WORSE with more practice.
When I started learning Spanish, I developed the habit of pronouncing the "R" too strongly. Instead of saying "Lo haré" I would say "Lo harrrrrré". Because nobody corrected me early, I spoke like that for years. I developed a training scar — a bad habit that's so deeply ingrained that it's almost impossible to remove. To this day, I need to consciously think about my "Rs", otherwise I go back to speaking like that.
This is why it's so important to have an instructor or friend who corrects you IMMEDIATELY: You form good habits and learn English right the FIRST TIME.
Amateurs think you need to memorize thousands of words of vocabulary
If you try memorizing thousands of words from flashcards, you will forget most of them by the time you need them.
Instead, you need to learn a LIMITED VOCABULARY, but learn it well, and learn it in context.
Which words do we learn? Well, we need to PRIORITIZE. We need to focus our efforts on the most important words of the language FIRST. So let's analyze English language a bit...
English is a "mutt" language with influences from many different cultures — we have several words for the same concept. English is also the international language of science and technology, so we're inventing new words all the time. Because of this, we have a HUGE vocabulary. Depending on how you count it, we have more than one million words.
Fortunately, you don't need to know that much! Nobody knows 1,000,000 words! Even Shakespeare, our most famous playwright knew about 70,000 words, and he invented about 1,700 of them.
Analysis of Moby Dick
Instead, let's analyze one of our most advanced literary works, Moby Dick, which has a TOTAL of 206,052 words uses 18,555 DIFFERENT words.
What we need to do is COUNT how many times each word appears. For example, dog may appear 20 times, cat may appear 17 times and whale may appear 1377 times because it's a book about a whale. Thanks to Excel, we don't need to do that work. You can see the results in the below, and the results are GOOD:
You can't see it on the chart, because it's too small, but 10% of the book is the SAME THREE WORDS: a (un/una), and (y), to (a).
Congratulations, you just learned 10% of the English language!
- Learn the next 4 most common words and you know 20%.
- Learn 12 more words and you know 30%.
- Learn 192 more words and you know 60%.
- Learn 349 more words and you know 70%.
You can do that, right?
Distribution of word frequency in the classic novel, "Moby Dick".
You might be thinking, what about the other 30%?
Because English and Spanish are cousins, they have more than 6,000 words in common. For example, posible in English is possible; importante is important; and normalmente is normally. You just need to change the pronunciation.
That covers a lot of the gap. For the rest of the language, you either use a dictionary, or use the four magical words: How do you say...? (Cómo se dice),
Just learn the most important words to get you started, and then keep asking people "How do you say...?" over-and-over again.
Don't worry about people thinking you are stupid. Natives are usually happy that you want to learn their language and like being the "expert". This is way easier, and a lot more fun.
More Good News: English grammar works the same way. There are tons of books written on the rules of the language, but we in daily conversation, we follow the same few rules. If you know the fifty most important rules, you can handle almost every situation you will encounter.
Amateurs think you need a native teacher.
A quick quiz
I'm assuming that you're a native Spanish speaker. So, I want you to look at the following three sentences, and tell me EXACTLY WHY the first sentence says "puede" but the other two say "pueda".
- Conozco a alguien que puede hablar inglés.
- No conozco a nadie que pueda hablar inglés.
- Necesito a alguien que pueda hablar inglés.
Did you figure it out? If you didn't, don't worry. Most Spanish speakers can't explain it because they understand Spanish INTUITIVELY: They know the difference between correct and incorrect Spanish, but they can't tell you why.
However, as a teacher, this isn't acceptable. You MUST know that rule so you can explain it to others.
NATIVE TEACHERS ARE OVERRATED
This is why most native teachers are often HORRIBLE. I was when I started. Knowing a language is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than teaching one.
It takes YEARS to develop your craft as a teacher, and many natives don't stay in the country long enough to get good at it. They teach for a year or two to pay for their traveling (and sometimes drinking) habit before moving onto something that interests them more.
Even if they stay in Colombia, they don't learn Spanish. They hang around other foreigners. Because they've never learned a second-language, they have NO IDEA of what it's like to be a beginner. They can't EMPATHIZE with the student.
I know I'm speaking against my own self-interest when I say this, but if I were a Colombian and I needed to learn English, I would NOT hire your typical native teacher.
Instead, I would look for a Colombian instructor who has reached the highest levels of the English language (C1 - C2), and did it quickly. Then, I would copy him, and do everything he told me to do.
Why? Because he has already done what I want to do. He understands my situation. He knows what it's like to be a beginner. He knows the shortcuts!
The list of what experts do differently goes on, but just remember this: If you want to learn a language, you don't don't need to smart — just smart enough to copy those who know they're doing.
Michel Thomas: The Language Master
The transition from Canadian soldier to Colombian educator is a long one—I don't want to bore you with that. But when I was invited to Colombia in 2010 to teach for the first time, I decided to be the teacher I would want for myself.
I would lead by example. I decided, "If I'm going to teach English, I must learn Spanish. No excuses."
Putting stubbornness aside, I finally listened to a more linguistically successful friend who introduced me to the Michel Thomas language programs, which would later become the basis of the English Evolved methodology.
Michel Thomas—a Polish Jew, Holocaust survivor, fighter in the French Resistance, Nazi hunter, and winner of the U.S. Army Silver Star—is considered by many, including myself, to be the greatest language instructor who ever lived, as he was famous for teaching the fundamentals of a language in days.
He was so effective that a documentary was made about him called The Language Master, where he taught French to academic underachievers in Britain in five days.
His mastery of teaching principles also garnered him a Rolodex of clients such as Woody Allen, Barbara Streisand, and Pierce Brosnan. By the end of his career, he charged 24.000 EUROS for three days of classes. (Artículo en El Mundo, Aprender inglés con mister Thomas en tres días cuesta 24.000 euros)
Don't worry, we're not that expensive. We give value in euros but charge in pesos. :)
How I learned Spanish and you can learn English
Mr. Thomas died in 2005. However, before he died, he did four courses in a recording studio: French, Spanish, German, and Italian.
In the courses, he took two beginners, and in real time, over three days, made them conversationally proficient. These recordings were how I learned Spanish
This is exactly what I did:
Step 1: Michel Thomas Spanish
Lying on the beaches of Vietnam on Cat-ba island, drinking Tiger beer and using my iPod, I did the Michel Thomas Spanish Course TWICE to develop muscle memory. It took me about 70 hours.
His course taught me the fundamentals of the language: verbs, sentence structure, and mastering common vocabulary.
There was no homework. There were no books. I didn't take any notes.
I had never spoken Spanish to a native before, but by the time I landed in Bogotá, I could form complex phrases like "Ojalá que hubiera sabido que ibas a estar aquí, porque si hubiera sabido eso, habríamos podido ir a ver al cine juntos".
This may seem impossible, but if you know the tricks, it's easier than it seems.
If you want to learn with us...
I'm going to talk about this later, but Michel Thomas never created an English program. I had to do it myself, and I see English Evolved as his spiritual successor, staying true to his principles and modernizing them.
Take a look at our programs.
If you want to learn for free...
Of course, I wasn't the only person to realize that Michal was a genius. The company Language Transfer from Spain created their own version of the program and published it on YouTube.
I have to admit. It's a good program. We do a few things and our course is more detailed, but the principles are the same. So, if you're skeptical or just want to get an idea of what our program is like, please check out the video below.
Step 2: Hire a Native Teacher
After a few months in Colombia, I paid for $400.000 pesos for twelve hours of classes with a native to polish me up and correct any bad habits I developed. This wasn't even necessary as she was following less effective traditional methodologies.
Later on I fired her because I went through the Paseo Milionario, and instead of saying "I'm sorry that happened to you", she blamed me, and taught me the phrase "Dar Papaya".
Step 3: Experience
The rest was just experience: talking to people, reading books, and writing a lot. If there was something I didn’t know, I just looked it up on the internet or asked a native.
The cost was an internet subscription and discipline. No program or teacher can replace hard work.
Two websites that were a great complement to the Michel Thomas program were:
- Duolingo (free). You can get this program for iOS, Android, or on the webpage. One study said that 34 hours of practice with Duolingo is equivalent to 1 semester of formal study. The study was published by Duolingo, so we need to be careful of bias, but the results seem reasonable to me.
- Yabla ($9.95 USD / mes). This is a website where you watch videos and you write what you hear. I used it a lot. I recommend watching INTERVIEWS, to hear the language as it's naturally spoken, and listening to MUSIC because songs are catchy and easier to remember. Please don't laugh at me, but I think I listened to Alejandro Fernandez's No Se Me Hace Fácil Olvidar 87 times — but it worked.
My Spanish is still far from perfect. My accent is still obviously Gringo and I make stupid mistakes all the time, including my "R" which is too strong. At the same time, I'm fully functional in Colombian society, have created businesses here. I even made it to the nationals of the 2015 Toastmasters International public speaking competition, competing in Spanish, against other Colombians, and came in third place.
The speech topic: "Dar Papaya" :)
So if somebody like me, somebody shy and terrible with languages could do that, you can DEFINITELY do more — especially considering that English is MUCH EASIER than Spanish.
In fact, I would be INSULTED if you didn't do better than me. As Leonardo Da Vinci said, "Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master".
A little problem if you want to learn English...
If you're Colombian, English isn’t a want, it’s a need. There is no debate. Those who know English have more opportunities than those who don’t.
- Portfolio magazine wrote an article explaining that "debido a la apertura comercial, es mejor hablar inglés, que tener un posgrado", and
- the British Council did a study showing that in many countries, one's earnings power goes up by 25% (report).
Despite the need for English, the solutions offered to Colombians haven't been the best.
The Public Solution
Think about this:
- the Colombian government stresses the importance of English in the curricula,
- spends more per capita on education than the international average,
- English is among the easiest languages to learn for a Spanish speaker, and
- because of the internet, there is free and unlimited access to high-quality teaching materials.
Yet, according to the Education First rankings,
- the country qualified “very low” in its level of English,
- took 49th place of 72 countries, and
- ranked the 10 out of 14 in Latin America.
That doesn't make sense! The data says everything. The public education system is doing something wrong.
It failed its mandate.
Just so you don't feel bad, this isn't an attack against Colombia. In Canada we have the same problem. Even though we have one of the "best" education systems in the world, we haven't been successful in teaching second languages. We are officially a bilingual country, all English speakers need to study French in school — but few can speak it.
Korea has its problems too. They are a country FANATICAL about education and learning English. The students are highly disciplined and the country has the budget to hire thousands of native teachers. Yet, they haven't had much success teaching English either.
So, when I hear Colombian politicians talking about copying the more developed countries' systems, I just shake my head. It's a case of "the blind leading the blind".
The Private Solution
The unhappiness with public education created a worldwide 167 billion USD English industry. Institutes have popped up everywhere to cash in on the demand. They're easy to recognize:
- Signs with "Aprender inglés ya!" printed in Comic Sans font.
- Logos made out of clip-art with a globe, to convince you of their "international mindset".
- Exaggerated praise for their "highly qualified native teachers".
- Websites filled with ridiculous stock-art photos of happy white people sitting around a table learning "business English".
Tip: "Business English" can be a euphemism for "an excuse to charge more". The teacher, who often has no experience in business, will use the same methodologies, but will throw in some business and financial vocabulary which they don't fully understand. If you need to improve your business English, either (1) read business books that are related to your field or (2), only hire the teacher for a SPECIFIC task with a CLEAR deadline, such as preparing you for a presentation, or helping you write a report.
What I think of the institutes
There is a MINORITY of reputable institutes out there that really do care about the quality of education. These are options that I can personally vouch for:
The British Council
One I can mention is the British Council. I personally know some of the teachers who work there. They're dedicated professionals. I don't think they're bad. The students who pass through their program tend to speak really well. I just think that if they introduced some of the principles of the English Evolved system and made some small changes, MORE people would pass through at a FASTER rate.
Executive English Training
If you're a corporation, another institute I can vouch for is Executive English Training, based in Bogotá. They cost more money, but I've taught for them, they select highly qualified and passionate teachers, and now that they've seen how happy the clients are with the English Evolved methodology, they want to scale that up.
An alternative to the institutes are the independent teachers. The quality varies. Some are backpackers who have no idea what they're doing, and some are professionals who value their reputation too much to work for an institute that pays little, has an abusive work environment, or sells a bad product.
What I think of the REST of the institutes
The list above was really small. I don't have much respect for the English Industry as a whole. I see them as vultures that take advantage of those who are willing to pay anything to learn English, and give them nothing in return. A good read is this blog post from El Espectador, "Du yu espik inglich? (el tumbe de los cursos de inglés)".
my experience in South Korea
The allegations in that article are NOT exaggerations and they happen everywhere. The year before I came to Colombia, I worked at a private institute (hagwon) in South Korea.
They hired me, knowing that I had NO TEACHING qualifications. The closest thing I had leadership school in the army, where we learned train men and lead them in war, a little inappropriate considering that children I was teaching were between the ages of 5 and 14
That wasn't a problem for them. In theory, my job was to teach. In reality, my job was to be white.
Parents were convinced that native teachers with blue eyes were the best. This demand meant that inexperienced white teachers were worth more than an experienced and bilingual Korean teacher who was born and raised in the United States!
Meeting the demand, the owners took as many pictures of me as possible with the kids and sent them to the parents. The Korean teachers were almost never put in the pictures.
The parents were happy. They see their child with a white person.
The school was happy. They were making more profits.
The children, on the other hand, weren't learning.
Methodology is the most important part of an educational system, and they had this nutty idea of forcing students to read books out loud as fast as they could, even if they didn't understand anything. Ostensibly, years of tuition later, they would magically speak like a native.
One day, a ten year-old girl's parents came in, asking the owner why their daughter didn't speak after four years of classes. The owner told the parents that she was lazy and not trying hard enough.
It was a lie. She followed all of the instructions perfectly. The methodology had no scientific basis. When I confronted him on this he told me, "If you don't like how we do things, why don't you quit and start your own institute?".
"Okay, I quit."
The Creation of English Evolved
If you've read up to this point, you just had an epiphany:
- The pubic system failed.
- The private system is only marginally better — or a scam.
- We have a genius named Michel Thomas who could teach a language in days.
Ummmmm..... Why don't we make an English course based on his methods?
I had the same idea! It's like we're telepathically connected! Please stop reading my mind. :P
At first, I didn't want to do it. I knew it would be a lot of work. Instead, I tried telling every teacher and institute that I found about this great system, hoping that THEY would do it.
Learn a language in days and weeks instead of months and years? they would jump all over it! I was so naive.
Almost every teacher and institute rejected it immediately. By reject, I don't mean they tried it, put it through rigorous empirical testing, and it didn't meet their criteria. I mean they didn't even CONSIDER it.
There was no intellectual debate at all. No matter how much science I threw at them, I felt like I was talking to children who put their hands over their ears saying, "Soy de palo, soy de palo, tengo orejas de pescado".
Teachers can be the most difficult to teach.
One of the institute owners, based in Medellín, confided in me, saying "I'm pretty sure the methodology works, but if the system teaches people faster, and there are no books, we lose a lot of money". When a school charges by the hour, and textbooks sell for $200,000 pesos each, the conflict of interest becomes apparent.
At least he was honest...
Becoming Michel Thomas
Since nobody else was going to create this course, I decided to do it myself. I created an "anti-institute", taking everything that the education system does wrong, and not do that.
Replicating a genius isn't easy. He was years ahead of his time and perfected his system over 26 years. Painting a Picasso using a paint-by-number set doesn't make you Picasso.
I had to become Michel Thomas. I had to work to do!
- I set up an apartment in Chapinero, invested all of my capital, and lived off of empanadas and instant ColCafe.
- I listened to all of his courses and researched everything I could about the man.
- I called his friends in New York and Las Angeles, who knew him while he was alive, trying to get any insight I could as to how the man worked.
- I read countless books and took more than a thousand pages of notes.
Michel Thomas was a strategist and tactician at the same time. In developing his courses, he considered "big picture" concepts such as maximizing long-term retention using spaced repetition techniques down to details that most would overlook , such as how the position of the teacher's shoulders affects the students' tension levels and inhibits learning.
I won't list every technique he used. However, I will tell you the one principle that underlies the entire methodology.
The Master Principle
The master principle is that "there is no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher."
Students don't fail. Teachers fail. If the students don't speak, the teacher didn't teach.
This principle works because when you hold an instructor 100% RESPONSIBLE for the success of the students, their IQ doubles.
- They start to question dogma and tradition.
- They question the established methodologies.
- They put their ego aside and open their mind.
- They become objective and self-critical.
- They look for new ways to explain difficult concepts.
- They stop doing what doesn't work.
- They find ways to make English easier.
- They start to use COMMON SENSE.
Beyond Michel Thomas
With this knowledge, I crafted the first version of the English Evolved Foundations course.
I started working as an independent teacher, training individuals and companies in Bogotá. It worked. Students who had given up on languages finally had HOPE and were speaking in English for the first time.
I wasn't happy though. It bothered me that I still wasn't as good as Michel. I couldn't teach as fast as he could, and the system didn't work for everybody.
A 90% success rate was too low. In a country of 47,000,000 people, that's still 4,700,000 people who can't learn English, 4,700,000 people left behind. That's too many.
When a student failed, I felt a sense of remorse and regret, knowing that they trusted me and I failed them. My failures kept going through my mind.
These failures became an obsession.
Whether I was brushing my teeth, in the shower, or walking down the street, I was always thinking up new ways to make English even easier. I eventually came to some discoveries as to why some students were failing.
Colombia's low level of Spanish
If you check the 2012 PISA Rankings, Colombia ranked near the bottom in almost all categories, including reading comprehension.
This makes sense when you consider that the average Colombian reads 2.3 books per year. That's the AVERAGE, not the MEDIAN. That means that a few people read lots of books, and most people don't read at all.
I've seen this myself. Students have told me that the past of "andar" es "andé" (it's anduve). They would write "iva a hacerlo" instead of "iba a hacerlo". Or they would say that "lo haría mañana" is the future tense when it's the conditional.
This isn't acceptable. How is it possible to learn another language if one hasn't even mastered their OWN language? How is it possible to speak like an educated English speaker if one doesn't read books in ANY language?
Of course, because only teachers can fail, it was MY job to solve this.
- I went back to the basics.
- I started getting students into the habit of reading
- I started teaching them the differences between a noun, verb, and how to properly use a comma.
- I taught them that "k" is NOT an acceptable alternative to "que".
- I taught them that people DO judge you on your grammar, punctuation, and ability to communicate clearly in your own language. So master it!
The irony of our English courses is that our students also speak better Spanish!
Tip: If you're serious about reaching the highest levels of English, it's important to get in the habit of reading. If you aren't a regular reader, I recommend that you (1) start in Spanish and gradually transition into English, (2) don't read anything boring, and (3) start small, but aim for at least one book per month.
The second problem I found was social anxiety. I found that students had a real FEAR OF HUMILIATION, and if you're afraid to talk to people, you'll never get better.
I remember having an executive client who FROZE when he tried to ask for a meal from a waitress at an airport restaurant.
I remember teaching a professional soldier who had seen war and fought for the Republic, yet his hands were SHAKING in class, because I was a foreigner.
I needed to joke with him and say, "Relax! How many battles have you fought in? You're a war hero! You shouldn't be intimidated by a lowly English teacher like me!"
No special treatment
I didn't understand exactly why students were so afraid of humiliation, but I had an idea. I needed to make sure everybody felt INCLUDED. I implemented a policy of fierce egalitarianism: Nobody gets special treatment.
I told the students:
"We don't work as individuals. We advance as a team. No students gets left behind.
Here, everybody gets treated the same, regardless of your race, gender, estrata. I don't even care if you're the President of the the Republic. We are all equals here.
If we all work hard, we're going to learn. It's that simple."
When students feel they BELONG and have a sense of TEAM, they feel more comfortable taking RISKS, and when they take more risks, they are more likely to SUCCEED.
COMPETENCE OVER CONFIDENCE
Bogotá has a large expat community and is full of events where you can practice with native English speakers. For example, in Zona Rosa, there's an event called Gringo Tuesdays where you can practice for free, the atmosphere is friendly, and the beer is cheap. (Read the El Tiempo article for more information).
Think about that: You can master English without leaving the country!
So why don't students do that? I was asking one of my students, the strongest in the class, why I never saw her at any of these events to practice English?
She told me that SHE DIDN'T FEEL CONFIDENT.
I told her,
"I've lived in this country for years. I STILL don't feel confident when I speak Spanish — but I do it anyways, regardless of how I feel.
Saying 'I'm not going to speak in English until I feel confident' is like saying 'I'm not going to play soccer until I play like James Rodriguez'.
It doesn't work like that. Confidence comes after competence, not before.
Don't let perfection be the enemy of the good. If you wait for that perfect moment where the stars are perfectly aligned and all of the lights turn green, you'll never get better.
On the surface, she agreed, but the body language didn't lie. The tension of her neck and the dilation of her pupils were screaming, "I don't want to talk to foreigners. I'm scared".
Letting her not speak English to foreigners wasn't an option. She paid me to learn English, and she WILL learn English, kicking-and-screaming if necessary.
Putting her in an embarrassing situation, wasn't an option either. If I pressured her to do a public speech in English, for example, she would probably fail, and be emotionally scarred from the experience.
Instead, I needed to INOCULATE her against the fear in the same way you use a vaccine to prevent a disease.
- I started by giving her a small task such as having a small conversation with a native using WhatsApp. That way, she had all the time in the world to think, and didn't feel any pressure.
- Then I asked her to do something more challenging, like going with me to a networking event and doing nothing more than saying "Hi".
- Once she got used to that, I got here to engage in small talk, and just ask the boring questions of "What's your name?", "What do you do?" and "Where are you from?". These questions aren't boring if you're shy.
- When I felt she was ready, I got her to approach a group of natives, asking nothing more than "How do you know each other?".
It wasn't long before she got over her shyness and made new friends.
Raising the standards
The final thing I did to overcome social anxiety was to instill a sense of pride and purpose in the students. I did what our instructors did to us in the army: I raised the standards.
I told them:
- We don't tolerate mediocrity. We don't tolerate don't lies, excuses, and disrespectful behavior such as arriving late. If a student participates in this behavior, we ask them to leave and give them their money back.
- We expect our students to dominate and win. We don't want survivors, we want winners. Our students must outperform students from other schools. They must beat the other candidates when they apply for a job so they can make more money for their family.
- The only acceptable pass mark is 100%. We don't advance until everybody shows they completely understand what they are saying and why they are saying it.
Something magical happens when you see more potential in your students than they see themselves: They deliver.
As an instructor, I can tell you that one of my proudest moments was seeing the most timid student in the class, a student I trained for only 50 hours, and seeing her talk to a Colombian who was studying for years — and she's CORRECTING his mistakes! Afterwards, I gave her a high-five and gave her a curt "well done" — which, if you know anything about British culture, is the highest praise you can get.
Spreading the methodology
Michel Thomas had a greater vision. He once said, "I didn't devise my system to teach languages quickly — I did it to change the world".
It sounds like a cliché slogan until you understand where he came from: He saw THREE democracies fall in his lifetime.
A democracy of the ignorant will always lead to a tyranny of the wicked.
Hitler was ELECTED by the German people. Because of that, his entire family was murdered in the death camps at Auschwitz.
He blamed the educational system. He believed that if the German educational system had taught people to THINK and QUESTION AUTHORITY rather than to MEMORIZE and OBEY, his family, and the other sixty million who died in World War 2 would've lived.
His idea to reform education was to focus on teaching languages.
He believed that there was nothing more foreign than a foreign language, and if you taught people a language in a few days, they would think, "Wow! If I could learn a language in a few days, what else could I learn?"
People would learn to believe in themselves, and see themselves as far more capable than they imagined.
Seeing a better way of learning, he believed people would start DEMANDING reform to the educational system, changing the way people think, and thus changing the world.
Learn English for Free
If you want to reform the educational system like I do, you don't need to do anything dramatic. Just start by DEMANDING better teaching methodologies in your schools.
The beauty of capitalism is that you get to cast your vote every time you pull out your wallet.
- Let weak teachers get fired, and corrupt institutes go bankrupt.
- Let dedicated teachers get fair compensation, and good institutes grow and prosper.
- Let evolution do its job.
If you can't afford to go to a good institute, learn it for free instead. You can start learning English RIGHT NOW, if you use the following three resources.
Once you're successful —and you will be if you follow the instructions— tell OTHERS how you learned.
Learn with us at English Evolved
Of course, if money isn't a problem for you, and you want a professional instructor whose job is to help people in your situation, you can always learn with us.
What you will get with us...
- Willpower. We won’t let you quit!
- Be part of a small class (4 – 6 people), giving you more individualized attention.
- Study with good people. We don’t allow jerks into our classes. Everybody helps each other out.
- Learn English without ever leaving Colombia.
- You will think like a linguist, not a tourist.
- From the first few minutes to the course until the very end, you will use your logic and intuition to perfectly form complete and complex phrases.
- You will be able to maintain a conversation with a native speaker.
- You will do this without notes, books, or homework.
- If you never studied English before, you are going to learn it right, the FIRST time, building a solid base for the rest of the program and for the rest of your life as an English speaker.
- If you have studied English before, we are going break your bad habits and teach you everything your old school should’ve taught you.
- You will learn the most important rules of English naturally.
- You will learn the entire verbal system, which is responsible for about 80% of your fluency.
- You will learn the tricks to transform your Spanish into English (I.e. posible/possible, importante/important, etc.), instantly learning more than 6,000 words.
- Less is more. You are going to learn the 300 most common words and you’re going to learn them well. This will give you a total vocabulary of more than 6,300 words, allowing you to handle most situations you will encounter. Not a bad start.
- Connectors. Words like “that”, “what” and “so that”. allowing you to put complex sentences together.
- Adjectives and adverbs. These are words like “quick” and “quickly”.
- More importantly, you will learn to stop relying on a dictionary, and learn how to guess the meaning of new vocabulary using the context of the situation.
- Accent training. We will help you correct common pronunciation problems that Colombians have.
- You will correct the most common mistakes that Colombian speakers make, making you stand out and sound better than everybody else.
- You will learn idiomatic expressions (expressions that can’t be translated directly), making your English sound more natural and refined.
- You will learn how to use the common connectors, such as por lo tanto, sin embargo, etc., allowing you to form complex phrases.
- They will not give you homework. That’s everybody’s favourite part.
- They will use clear and are concise explanations, rarely extending beyond 60 seconds.
- They won’t bore you with confusing grammatical terms.
- They will give you immediate feedback, so that you can be confident you are speaking correctly, and don’t form bad habits.
- They are patient. They know you’re a beginner.
- They will treat you fairly. Your race, gender, religion, or social strata don’t matter to us.
- They are also demanding. They won’t accept your excuses. They won’t accept mediocre performance, and they won’t let you quit.
Are you going to sound like a native speaker at the end of this? No. But you’re going to have a solid foundation
What happens AFTER the course?
Many institutes make their money keeping students for years. The student learns a little, but not enough to be confident, and the solution of course is, another course.
We don’t like that. It’s unethical.
You are entrusting us as experts, and we have a moral obligation to teach you as quickly and effectively as possible.
We make our money from references. We make money when when your friends and family notice how much better you speak English, and you send them to us.
We want you to learn everything you need to hold a conversation in ONE COURSE. We don’t want you to be a classroom junkie, looking for another teacher to give you all the answers.
We want you to make THE WORLD your classroom — that’s why you learned English! Travel, meet foreigners, work for a foreign company, study abroad, read books, watch movies… Your imagination is the limit.
However, after enough complaints of "We like the course! We don't want to stop! Please take our money!", I finally listened.
So, occasionally we offer short specialization courses in things such as interview preparation, public speaking, tricks to pass the IELTS exam, financial English, and whatever the students demand.
Check the list of courses to see what we are offering right now.
Who SHOULD join the English Evolved community
English Evolved is for anybody who is ready to make a real, tangible improvement in their life through learning English.
- thinks that English is too hard to learn,
- has little or no experience in the language and has no idea where to start,
- is tired of wasting years of their life in classes with nothing to show for it,
- wants to think like a linguist and not a tourist,
- wants a solid foundation in the languages, bringing them one step closer to their goals, or
- wants to perfect their English without being bombarded with boring and impractical grammar terminology.
Who should NOT join
English Evolved isn’t for you if you…
- aren’t serious about learning English,
- are rude and disrespectful towards others,
- have problems with punctuality and attendance — it's rude,
- already have an advanced level of English — our program was designed with beginners and intermediate students in mind, or
- can't commit to a schedule.
Our programs are designed to be FLEXIBLE and NOT be a huge time commitment. However, our courses are CUMULATIVE, meaning that every class depends on what you learned in the previous class.
INTENSITY MATTERS. Especially in the beginning, you must come to ALL CLASSES and ON TIME. If you don't, the system won't work. Once you get to a critical mass point where you are an independent English speaker with a mastery of English fundamentals, this condition will be relaxed and we can lower the intensity.
Sign up for English Evolved today
If a program like this is for you, please join our Facebook Group so you can get to know us and receive regular tips to improve your English. Then, check out our programs, and receive a free consultation with one of our instructors.
We look forward to meeting you and hope to open your mind to a new way of learning English.
Welcome to English, Evolved,
- James H