Whatever your reason, deciding to learn English is one thing but actually learning it is another. I like to compare it to starting a new health regime, you know it's going to be good for you, you can even see yourself looking and feeling absolutely fabulous until, that is, you actually begin. Like starting anything new, including learning English, it's going to take a little bit of time and effort, you may even find yourself breaking through the odd pain barrier.
The initial stage is always the hardest. It requires determination and will power. Whether you're part of a group class or working with a private tutor, at some point, you'll find yourself thinking 'do I really have to do this?' as you listen to the conversation between Sarah and John on their first date AGAIN or 'this isn't for me' as you try your hardest to grasp the difference between the present perfect and the past tense. You may feel like you're getting nowhere fast and at times downright bored with the whole thing. That's why it's so important to work with a teacher who you get on well with and who will keep you motivated and interested, just like a good personal trainer.
Then out of the blue, you finally overhear someone on the street say something you actually understand or you catch the headlines of a newspaper and recognise the words. At last, you have proof of your own progress and it's as if you have just broken through the first pain barrier. You quite rightly give yourself a pat on the back, returning to class with new found confidence. Acknowledging your progress is such an important part of the learning process, not only at this stage but at all stages.
You're on your way, but it's not that you have to make less of an effort, in fact it's often a case of 'the more you know, the more you realise there is to know'. What changes is your attitude. As you develop your mental stamina and become familiar with the unfamiliar, the learning process becomes easier and more enjoyable. You start to take little risks, asking for the bill in a restaurant or directions on the street. Of course the people you're asking don't realise what this means to you; they respond to you as they would to anyone else, while you smile to yourself knowing you've just broken through pain barrier number two, congratulations!
Next, pain barrier number three: English grammar. It's not the hardest grammar in the world, Italian or Russian for example are much more difficult but the curious thing about English grammar is that the more rules you learn the more you realise that English speakers themselves break these rules all the time. I tell my students that English is a very flexible language and not to get too bogged down with the grammar. The more familiar you become with the language overall, the more you'll understand how it works - even when it shouldn't be working at all. After a while you'll get the hang of it, so hang on in there. This is what makes English such a fun language to communicate in.
At this stage you're somewhere between intermediate to upper intermediate. You can communicate pretty well, more than enough to get by so not surprisingly, this is where many people plateau unless they're under pressure to go the extra mile such as students applying to UK universities and who need high band scores in the IELTS exam. Reaching an advanced level involves focusing on detail, expanding your vocabulary and being aware of linguistic nuances across all four skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking. To some degree it really means entering into an English language mindset. Some students just flow into it while others, especially those who have been at an intermediate level and who haven't studied for a long time may find it difficult but as I mentioned earlier, if you're working with the right tutor, it can be a fun and pleasant experience.
In my opinion, achieving an advanced level of English is the most rewarding stage of all because not only is it confidence boosting and gives you the ability to communicate with over 350 million native English speakers from Austrailia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the UK, the USA and South Africa but, like learning any new language, it gives you a whole new perspective on life and can change the way you perceive people, places and experiences. Yes it will take time and effort (Rome wasn't built in a day) and there may be a few pain barriers along the way but it will be well worth it, often in ways, as my students tell me, that they could not forsee when they were just starting.