3 Reasons Why You Should Practice English by Using Your Own Photos

Polaroids hanging from thread
Photo by Raj-Rana on Unsplash

I’m having lunch with my friends and my girlfriend Aloha is talking about Lucca Comics, the largest comics festival in Europe. She’s telling stories about it as she’s been to the event many times. She describes what people do there, how great the whole atmosphere is and all the costumes she wore when she attended the festival.

As I’m listening to her, I’m automatically creating images in my head of what she’s describing: the colours, the place, the costumes and so on. In other words, I’m picturing the story, and am sure my friends are doing the same as they listen. Then she does something we often do when we tell a story. She asks, “Do you want to see a photo of it?”

And everyone goes, “Yeah!”. 

This has happened to me so many times, both as a listener and speaker. I’m telling something that’s happened to me and then feel this strong impulse to show a picture of what I’m talking about. Perhaps you do the same? 

It makes sense to do it because your story feels more real and authentic if you have an image that goes with it. But what does this have to do with practicing and improving your English? Quite a lot, actually. Let’s explore how photos, stories and learning English are interconnected.

1. Our Own Photos and Stories Are Motivating

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Learning English is more enjoyable and motivating when you feel engaged. No good English teacher has ever said the opposite and we don’t need scientists to tell us that when we’re bored, we’re not learning. Right?

So, because your pictures represent something that is relevant to you and your life (a moment you lived, an object, a place, a person), they have an innate power to stimulate you to speak about them. 

As humans, we’re naturally interested in what’s meaningful to us. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a quick test. 

Which of these two tasks motivates you the most?

A – Look at this picture of the Smiths, a British family from your English coursebook, and tell me who they are, their hobbies and jobs.

B – Show me a picture of your family and tell me who they are, their hobbies and jobs.

Did you say A? Get out of here then, now! 🙂 

Back to Aloha, she was motivated and interested in telling her story and showing her photos of the festival because that was a personal experience that she’d enjoyed. 

I bet you do tell stories already in your first language but, because you’re a learner of English, you can tell them in English.

How can you share your story? You’ll find lots of ideas in my free guide ‘Photos as Language and Happiness Generators’. But keep reading now. You’ll find a link to download it at the bottom of this article.

2. They Help Memorise Vocabulary and Give the Storyteller a Sense of Security

Your photos and stories are closely linked to who you are, and that’s why they make memorising new vocabulary more efficient. 

Say that you’re French and need the word chien to tell a story about your pet. When you’re preparing what to say, you use a translator or ask your teacher and find out that the English word for chien is dog. 

You’ll be more likely to remember this new word because it’s an essential one that you need to tell your story and you’re emotionally attached to it (you associate it with your dog). So dog is now a ‘personalised’ word. 

Memory and emotions are strongly connected and there’s a lot of evidence that personalising vocabulary helps you remember it. Is there a better way to do this than using new words in the context of your own stories?

Heart and Brain
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Also, telling a story about a photo of your choice can have a great effect on your confidence. You choose the topic of the story so you already know what happened. This can boost your confidence, especially if you prepare in advance what you’re going to say. You ‘just’ need to put words into sentences and tell your story in the best way you can. 

3. Sharing Photos and Stories Can Connect You to the World and Make You Happier

I didn’t ask her, but it was evident that Aloha was feeling happy when she was sharing her story about the festival. In her mind, she might have re-lived those moments by sharing them with a group of friends. She told the story with a smile and sparkling eyes.

This is another magic power our own personal stories and photos have: they allow you to share moments that will make you feel good, even if only for an instant, if you share them.

Why do we share stories? Simple: to connect with others. Whether you’re trying to sell a product, reading a bedtime story to your kid, or telling your friends a joke, all you’re trying to do is make a connection with your listeners. 

Doing this in your first language can connect you to those who speak it. Using English to tell your story can connect you to the world, as English is a global language.

Motivation, personalisation opportunities, engagement, confidence, and security are very important elements when you’re learning English, and I believe photos can do wonders in all these areas.

I really hope you’ll start sharing stories and meaningful photos, so you can practice English, build confidence and, most importantly, connect with the world. 

If you don’t know how to do it, click here to download my free guide ‘Photos as Language and Happiness Generators’. I hope you’ll find it useful!

Any thoughts? Send them to me. I reply to every comment

Fabio Cerpelloni is a qualified English teacher, photography and storytelling lover who believes that telling personal stories is the most effective, productive, and meaningful language practice activity you could ever do to improve your English. 

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