Learner agency is not a new topic in education but it is, perhaps, the one we should be talking about the most. In general terms, agency is action that arises from deliberation and choice, or, in other words, the power to act. Why, you might ask, is it relevant in your learning process? Bear with me.

You cannot learn until you decide to. It may seem obvious at first, but it is not all that black and white. Having agency means you can choose to put in the work, or not to. Whether you take the leap or cross your arms and refuse to participate in an activity in class, you are using your agency, your power to act.

No matter what promises people make you, there is no magical shortcut to learning anything – let along a language. Your conscious decision to act is all that there is. And I tell you from experience: every day I make the decision to take action. I consciously decide to learn daily. All the time. And this is how I learnt English. And still do.

Years ago, the 17 year-old me had no idea what language acquisition was. All I knew was that I was going to spend one year in High School in Australia and that I would learn English once and for all because I dreaded the thought of having to attend – wait for it – tedious, senseless English classes. It must have been the work of some sort of “curse” that I ended up becoming an ESL teacher and spending all my days in “English classes”. Anyways, I digress…

Starting High School in Australia was not easy. I did not speak English, and nobody in the tiny town where I lived spoke Portuguese. Most of them didn’t even know where Brazil was, for crying out loud! The first week was the hardest but instead of quitting I decided to learn English. And here is what I did – and what you, too, can do:

  • Read in English: I would go to the library and get books that I had already read in Portuguese so I could base what I was reading on what I already knew about the story. Later on, the transition to new books came quite naturally.
  • Write in English: I kept a journal in which I would write whatever had happened to me each day as well as any thoughts or ideas that crossed my mind. I didn’t care if I had misspelt a word or used a wrong verb tense; all I cared for was the fact that I was writing in English.
  • Have conversations in English: naturally, the fact that English was the only language anybody could speak helped.
  • Work out the English grammar: yes, I did try to make sense of grammar. I did it by myself, though, I checked out a grammar book from the library and started comparing the rules to what I saw on the streets.
  • Ask questions: I would often ask classmates, host parents, acquaintances how to say something or which was the correct form of a phrase or expression. People didn’t need to know grammar to explain usage, which was what I was looking for.

If you are planning to study English in Canada, all of the steps I described can work for you. However, if you are not leaving your country and you still want to take control of your learning process, you can adapt some of those steps to your reality.

Every bookstore nowadays has a “books in English” section. You can start there. Or even purchase ebooks in English. The internet also makes things much easier as it gives you access to a countless number of resources in English. Start writing in English on an old notebook, create a blog, comment on people’s posts. Listen to music in English, watch movies in English with subtitles in English, as well. TED Talks are great for practice, besides, there is so much interesting content in those videos that you might learn a thing or two apart from improving your English! You might not have anyone to talk to in English where you are. Don’t be discouraged. You can always join a course, a conversation circle or contact us at Vertices. And, most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

As it is always the case, the ball is in your court. This is what agency is. It is up to you to decide what to do next.

And if you are curious to learn more about learner agency, check out this article.

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