The Classroom Trap

Do you spend a lot more time studying grammar and vocabulary than practising speaking and writing?

Do you feel like you just need to spend a little bit more time studying, so that when you communicate with real people you won’t make any mistakes?

If you answered yes to these questions, then you’re probably caught in “the classroom trap”.

The classroom trap is when students don’t practise what they learn in the classroom (or a textbook) in real life.

This is often because they think that they’re not ready yet. They think that they need to study MORE so that when they DO practice in the real world, they won’t make any mistakes.

I remember I made this mistake when learning how to play the guitar. I thought that if I spent months in my bedroom just practising, I’d sound like Jimi Hendrix when I eventually decided to play with other people.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t true. In order to improve more quickly, I needed to practise with other people.

This is because we form stronger neural connections (or memories) when they’re associated with sounds, smells, sights, emotions, tastes, etc. In other words, when they’re associated with real-life experiences.

So, if you learn some vocabulary or a new grammar rule this week, make sure you use it in a conversation or an email with a real person. The more times you do this, the quicker you’ll learn.

Me escaping “the classroom trap” at a friend’s wedding.


  1. The Language Learner Guidebook, Chapter 8: How can immersion fail?Dr. Shane Dixon
  2. Learning How to Learn a Language (online course), Section 2: An active task approach: The explore, 4. The good language learner is active: The classroom trap and the Gouin Effect.

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