How to Learn English

An interview with Joe from "Teacher Joe"

Teaacher Joe

How to learn English? How to teach English? And how to do it all with humor? The one and only, Teacher Joe, shares important tips and resources!

Now, in case you are not familiar with him – who is Teacher Joe?

Joseph DeVeto is a Super Teacher: he has taught countless students in different countries, he's got a successful YouTube Channel, and several websites, all devoted to learning and teaching English.

He combines his teaching with a great sense of humor (at least in my opinion) and so making the process light and fun.

I am very happy to have him answering some questions and sharing his insightful perspective on the subject.

1. Going back in time, what was your motivation for becoming a teacher?

Growing up, I always thought I might be a teacher. I used to watch my own teachers and think about how I would try different approaches if it were me in front of the class. However, I didn't have anything I really wanted to teach! It was when I started learning French seriously that I realized the value of learning another language - not only can we learn the language, we can learn all of the culture that goes with it. From my French studies, I learned more about history, geography, art, architecture, music, and literature at the same time. Teaching a language, it seemed to me, was a way to really make a difference in students' lives. Later, as I prepared to become a teacher, I was fascinated by the process of successfully learning a language, especially as an adult. I noticed that many people who study a language in high school or university never become proficient in that language. We tend to learn many new words in a language along with some grammar rules, but we don't always learn how to put it all together as we do with our first language. I think it's this fascination in the process - how do some people succeed where others do not - that has been my motivation over the years.

2. What was your biggest success as a teacher?

That would certainly be my experience teaching in Japanese public schools, which I did for six years. My students were incredibly shy, unwilling to say a word. Often they were not even willing to listen to English. When I said "Hello" to them, they responded in Japanese, "I hate English". I slowly learned how to make English fun for them, how to get them to pay attention to some of the things I said. Then I built on those bits and pieces of English until finally they started responding, usually only with "yes" or "no" at first.

By adding lots of simple listening practice, question and answer games, pair exercises, plus extras like songs and videos, I got students participating actively and enthusiastically, all in English! Most of the teaching ideas on my website ( were developed and perfected at that time.

3. Your site has huge amounts of materials on learning/teaching/using English. Where should one start?

I actually have three websites right now! The first one was which was basically a kind of "brain dump". I started with some simple dialogues I had written for my students in China, along with some corrected compositions. I later added other sections in a very haphazard way, so there is no real organization to the site. My latest website ( is an attempt to organize the whole process of learning, in a step by step fashion. I think the Practice English page may end up being the most important page from that site. It basically ties together the best pages from into a logical study plan. Or so I hope! It's still a work in progress.

For my current students in China, I've also made a site with just humor: Humor is such an important tool in teaching, especially in teaching a language, so I think this site should be the most popular of my three sites.

4. You are sharing some very useful videos that teach pronunciation. In your opinion, how important is correct pronunciation to learners of English?

I think clear pronunciation is very important for two reasons. Let me give the second reason first, because it's fairly obvious. Clear pronunciation allows a learner to be understood, leading to successful communication. Sometimes we can guess what a person is saying even if there are small errors in pronunciation, however the more small errors we have, the greater the possibility of being misunderstood.

The second reason is, I think, more important! When learners of a language can pronounce clearly, they gain confidence in speaking. I believe one of the reasons my Japanese students used to say "I hate English" was because they could not pronounce it well. They knew their pronunciation sounded "wrong" and they did not like embarrassing themselves by saying things incorrectly. As they learned to pronounce correctly, and as they were able to compare their pronunciation to mine, they knew they were learning to speak "real" English, and that gave them the confidence to move forward.

5. I am quite interested to hear your advice on this one. After deciding "Yes! I want to learn English!" what is the first step that person should take?

I think the very first thing students should do, and maybe the second, third, fourth and fifth thing, is to listen to English. Get used to the sounds and rhythm of English, until it starts to feel "natural". Think about how we learn our first languages - we listen to the language all around us long before we can say even one word! And we end up fluent! We can do the same for any language, especially with today's technology. As we listen more, we can then start to study vocabulary and grammar in context (often while listening to news, songs, TV or movies!), and then use what we learn to communicate. And communication, after all, is the goal of learning a language, isn't it?

6. What should a student emphasize more in his studies: vocabulary or grammar?

I would not emphasize either! Learning vocabulary or grammar out of context is simply not an effective way to learn a language. Successful students focus more on learning "whole language" by getting "input". This is done by listening and reading. In other words, they learn vocabulary and grammar in context.

If learners study grammar by learning common patterns that they can use often, it can help quite a bit, even though too many grammar details can be confusing and lead to frequent mistakes. On the other hand, if learners study many, many words, they end up forgetting most of them, and misusing most of the words they do remember. I believe most students who give up learning a language are those students who focus too much on vocabulary.

7. In your opinion, what is the biggest mind shift a learner of English should make to be "fully ready" for the experience?

First, I think learners should really want to learn English. Too often, students study because teachers tell them they "should" study. That rarely leads to success. In the work world, some people have to learn English to do their jobs. In such cases, even though they may not want to learn English itself, they want to succeed, and that can provide enough motivation to keep going.

Second, I think learners have to think about how to communicate in English. To communicate successfully, we have to learn "whole" English. We also have to learn how to think in English. The skill of thinking in English only comes with correct practice, for example, learning words in context rather than in isolation.

8. What surprises await us in the future? Any future projects or videos you are working on?

Right now my career is going through a bit of a transition, so I don't have much time for new projects. In the future I would like to make more audio and video files because, as I mentioned earlier, listening to a language is so important. I've made a few audio files and videos of jokes from which are not actually posted on the site. Your readers can be among the few who can listen by going to and I don't know when I will be able to add more, but if I get some encouragement from visitors, I might make them sooner rather than later!

If I had more time, I would like to make videos that show how to communicate more successfully in English. I envision making videos with people interacting, setting good examples rather than just "instructing". These videos could be with two teachers or with students interacting with each other. I don't see any videos like that, so they could be tremendously valuable for students.

9. And finally, if you were not teaching English as Teacher Joe, what would you be doing?

I would love to be a blues guitarist like my favorite musician, B.B. King. Of course, to do that I would have to actually learn to play the guitar! Or I would like to be a professional athlete. Too bad I'm only average at sports. Or I could live at the beach, collecting shellfish and selling them at the market, or something like that.

More realistically, I could... well, I don't know what I could do! I've focused so much on teaching that I can't do anything else well enough to earn money. Fortunately, I don't have to make that choice. With so many people around the world learning English, there will always be jobs for teachers. Maybe I could even teach English at the beach to athletes who also know how to play the guitar! Hey, it doesn't hurt to dream...
Well, that was enlightening. Thanks a lot for sharing, Joe!
We'll be waiting to listen to your first album...

So if you would like to know how to learn English, or how to teach English, you are welcome to visit his sites.

And I'll leave you with a sample of Joe's work: a video where he teaches all English vowel sounds.

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