I bet every one of us – foreign English speakers – have asked these kinds of questions at some point in time:
“What’s the difference between ‘You should do it’ and ‘You ought to do it’?”
“When should I use the preposition ‘on’ and when – ‘upon’?”
Such thirst for knowledge, however, conceals many dangers for an unsuspecting foreigner who’s trying hard to improve his English!
As you can imagine, the possible number of such and similar questions is virtually unlimited thus providing you with a never-ending supply of content to ANALYZE and file under different English grammar related categories.
Remember – analysis often leads to paralysis!
If you have to produce instant speech, all those explanations about differences between ‘should’ and ‘ought’, ‘on’ and ‘upon’ and sample sentences are only good as far as you have all the time in the world to plan what you’re going to say. Which is… NEVER going to happen in a real life situation!
No problem! If you have to create written content you can carefully pick the proper words and arrange them accordingly because you can go back to whatever advice you received and apply logical reasoning in order to come up with the most likely solution.
But even if it takes you only a split second to make a decision as to which preposition – ‘on’ or ‘upon’ – to use, for example, it’s enough to make you stuck for words and unable to maintain a fluent, natural English conversation.
EVEN if all you have to decide is whether the noun you’re preceding with the preposition is a tangible thing (in which case ‘on’ should be used) or an abstract concept (that’s when you can use ‘upon’), it’s still way too long!
When you speak fluently, you DON’T DECIDE WHAT TO SAY. YOU JUST SAY IT!
Keep reading this article to find out HOW EXACTLY your brain works and WHAT YOU SHOULD DO instead of asking questions about differences between English words and how each of them is used!
Such Questions Appeal to Your Analytical Side Which Has Little to Do With Your Oral Fluency!
You see, every time you ask a question about differences between English words and how you should use them, you’re contributing to your analytical side which tries to standardize, structure and classify the different English nouns, verbs, participles and what not.
You’re given an answer which most likely is comprised of an explanation as to how those English words are different followed by a number of sample phrases and sentences.
It’s all nice and well until you have to actually USE those words in an actual conversation with other English speakers!
When you speak, you don’t have enough time to go back to the list of conditions determining use of ‘in’ and ‘on’ in your memory and figure out which is the correct preposition to use in that particular moment in time.
When you speak, you have to be capable of JUST SAYING THE RIGHT THING WITHOUT ANY PLANNING!
Let’s say, you’re not sure whether to use the preposition ‘on’ or ‘in’ when referring to a particular day of the week. Is it ‘Charles was shot on Monday’s episode’ or ‘Charles was shot in Monday’s episode’? (I’m talking about some TV drama series here).
Now, if you go about dealing with this issue by asking a question “what’s the difference between the preposition ‘on’ and ‘in’?”, you’re only making it more difficult for yourself.
You’re CREATING ALGORITHMS in your brain which are somewhat similar to the basic computer programming and its “IF – THEN” structure.
The problem is – it works beautifully for computers and machines, but human brain is wired differently.
We’re operating on a case-by-case basis which is fundamentally different to the seemingly more logical “IF – THEN” structure.
If it were true, you’d be capable of conducting the following reasoning:
…“’on’ is used with days of the week; however, in this particular case the noun the preposition refers to is ‘episode’ instead of ‘Monday’, so ‘in Monday’s episode’ is probably the proper way of saying it”…
…IN A SPLIT SECOND AND PRODUCE THE PROPER SENTENCE INSTANTLY.
Believe me – no-one can! 😉
Your Brain Follows ASSOCIATIONS Instead of Algorithms! Then Why Treat it Like a Computer When Improving Your English?
You mightn’t have thought about it before, but it’s true nonetheless – our brain has evolved by adapting to environment, and the best way to do that is treat all information on a case-by-case basis.
Starting from when you’re just a baby lying in a crib, your mind is processing the surrounding world and storing hundreds of thousands of images in your mental hard drive as well as the associated sounds, smells and emotions.
You recognize everyday items such as a table, a chair and a laptop because you’ve seen those items thousands of times before and your brain classifies them as the respective item in a nanosecond ❗
Same goes with every other bit of visual and audio information we process, and we’re totally unaware of the workings behind the scenes because it’s all just natural to us.
But did you know that if a blind person having been born without eyesight, for instance, undergoes a surgery and is capable of seeing, they WON’T SEE THE WORLD THE SAME WAY other people do?
Their brain simply doesn’t know how to process all that visual information because the mapping hasn’t been done.
There are no associations created.
You would see horizontal and vertical lines at best.
You wouldn’t tell an open window from a picture hung on the wall.
It sounds crazy, but it’s true!
If the human brain was operating like a computer program, you could just put in all the necessary information and it would take effect immediately.
You could bring that person who’s regained their eyesight into a room, and he would just see everything the way it is after learning a very elaborate description of the room and everything in it.
Similarly, you could learn conditions of use of specific English nouns, verbs, adverbs and prepositions and draw information from that knowledge pool whenever you open your mouth and produce instant and fluent speech.
Ain’t gonna happen!
If you want to be able to speak fluently, you have to memorize SPECIFIC cases of using, for example, prepositions ‘in’ and ‘on’. You have to have not just heard and but also MEMORIZED certain word groups containing the word ‘in’ and ‘out’ to be able to use one or the other without going back to your mental lists.
IT’S ALL ABOUT ASSOCIATIONS!
Natural English Phrases, Collocations and Expressions Appeal to Your Brain’s Processes because Spoken English is a PRACTICAL SKILL!
If you memorize different phrases containing the two prepositions ‘in’ and ‘on’, you’ll imprint those speech patterns into your brain.
Once that association is created there, you’re capable of producing it instantly!
“Just in case”
“Bear in mind”
“All in all”
“Walk in the park”
If you learn the aforementioned phrases, you WON’T have to MAKE CONSCIOUS EFFORT to figure out if you have to say ‘… in the park’, ‘…at the park’, ‘…in a park’ or ‘…in park’.
You’ll just KNOW INSTINCTIVELY what to say, and that’s exactly how our brain has evolved to operate.
Imagine the pre-historic caveman trying to figure out the best way to deal with an attacking tiger by weighing up different options of weapons he could use as well as different body positions and defense techniques… By the time it would take him to analyze all available information he would have been dead already!
The only practical way of responding to such situations is by acting INSTINCTIVELY which in turn is based upon previous caveman’s encounters with wild animals – and that’s when past experience and resulting ASSOCIATIONS come into play at a subconscious level.
Over millennia of constant conditioning, human brain has developed to operate on an association basis in PRACTICAL SITUATIONS and it’s the very same when it comes to spoken English performance!
When you communicate with other English speakers, your mind mapping determines the effectiveness of the process to the same extent as the historical caveman’s fight with the tiger. If your brain has been conditioned properly (right ASSOCIATIONS have been created), you’ll instinctively know what to say at the right time.
If, on the other hand, you keep questioning and analyzing why certain things are said in a certain way without simply imprinting those speech patterns into your mind, you’ll create WRONG ASSOCIATIONS which will have a detrimental effect on your spoken English fluency.
If, for example, instead of associating the words ‘just’, ‘in’, and ‘case’ together, you will memorize a list of grammar rules pertaining to the preposition ‘in’, every time you have to choose a preposition to use, you’ll keep seeing your grammar lists in front of your eyes! 😡
It used to happen to me all the time, by the way, and only when I stopped writing down and learning such and similar lists and went for English phrase and expression memorization instead, did I notice improvement to my ability to produce instant speech.
Does That Mean I Shouldn’t Ask ANY Questions? How am I Supposed to Learn Then!?
Here’s the bottom line.
Of course it’s only natural to try to find an answer in situations when you’re unsure of this or that particular way of saying something in English.
What I’m trying the say in this article is that it’s not healthy for your oral English fluency to CONSTANTLY QUESTION almost everything and try to classify everything you learn in terms of English grammar and vocabulary according to strict rules.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not denying that human quizzical nature has been very instrumental – even crucial – in our development as a race.
All I’m saying is that if you approach the English language from the analytical perspective most of the time, you’ll create completely different associations in your brain than required for natural spoken English performance!
If you don’t have to speak with real English speaking people in real life and your lack of English fluency doesn’t bother you at all – fine!
If grammar is your hobby and you really, really LOVE putting clearly defined rules and structure onto everything you come across – I guess I won’t be able to change your habits just by this article alone.
IF, on the other hand, you’re one of those struggling foreign English speakers who’s desperate to start speaking more fluently instead of constantly questioning himself when trying to speak with others, suppressing your quizzical natural is the only way you can actually improve your fluency ❗
There are hundreds of thousands of online English grammar forum threads where people spend countless hours asking questions:
“What’s the difference between ‘the whole time’ and ‘all the time’?”
“Why do my English speaking friends say ‘in school’ when my English grammar textbook clearly states that ‘at school’ is the correct way of saying it?”
And guess what?
Their relentless pursuit of PERFECT ENGLISH is being supported by thousands of native English speaking teachers and also English language enthusiasts from both native and foreign backgrounds who are trying to do their best to unveil all intricacies of the seemingly super-complicated English grammar.
Fair enough – but then native speakers can already SPEAK in English fluently and they don’t have all those terrible fluency problems faced by so many foreigners!
Little do they know that by promoting this analytical approach they’re only contributing to the confusion of those foreign English speakers who CAN’T SPEAK FLUENTLY and are trying to fix their fluency problems by becoming really smart in terms of grammar.
In fact, I do it all the time!
Watch this video to see how I do it:
You see – I don’t question WHY native speakers say something in a certain way.
I just accept it, and I try to memorize that collocation (that’s how natural English speech patterns are called) so that I can USE IT IN MY CONVERSATIONS AND ALSO WRITING in the future.
I create natural associations in my mind because English is a practical skill, and I warmly suggest you do the same thing, my friends!
I hope you enjoyed reading this article, and please don’t hesitate to leave comments below!
P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!
P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!