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You Shouldn’t Learn Irregular Verbs This Way: Bring – Brought – Brought

Improve Spoken English

Today I witnessed how a beginner English learner was using a smart phone app to build English vocabulary.

The girl spoke a word in her native language, the app picked it up, translated into English and while doing so it also provided all three basic forms of the verb in question: “Bring, brought, brought.”

Cool! – you may think.

It’s a great app! 😉

Well, just forget the app for a moment, and let’s see what happens in your brain when you memorize a word string such as “Bring – brought – brought”.

You memorize all those three words in the same exact sequence, and next time around when you think of using the verb “to bring”, the other word -“brought” – is going to appear alongside.

You think it’s handy?

Well, think twice ❗

What if you’re trying to have a conversation with someone in English, and you’re starting a sentence by saying: “My supervisor told me I have to bring…” – but then suddenly the word “brought” jumps right in making you hesitate?

Do you think it’s an unlikely scenario?

In reality it’s EXACTLY how the typical English fluency issue manifests itself, and learning such unnatural word groups contributes to non-native speakers’ inability to speak fluently big time!

So watch the entire video above, and if you’ve any questions or queries – please post them in the comments section below.

Robby

English Harmony System

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • It’s because people don’t know any better, unfortunately…

  • Yeah, this makes sense. It’s funny though how people do what they do without thinking about how effective it really is.

  • Hi Juhapekka,

    I just recorded and published a video response to your comment here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsM3eYmG3xo where I’m trying to explain about what I meant in the last comment in relation to thinking in English. I hope it addresses all your concerns in relation to the matter!

    Speaking of Benny’s reasoning behind the ineffectiveness of listening practice due to a phenomenon whereby the audio content starts washing over your ears – I totally agree with him!

    It’s so much more effective to be ACTIVELY involved – listen, then discuss (with yourself or others) etc.

    I hope you’ll enjoy watching my video, and of course – any further commentary is welcome! 😉

    Best Regards and thanks for the interesting discussion,

    Robby

  • Juhapekka

    Thanks. I asked whether it’s possible to think very sophisticated and complex thoughts in English because I spend a huge amount of my freetime with my homework in Finnish but many course books are in English. So, anyway I have to read course books in English and I usually can “think” in English when I’m reading English books (it’s natural because when reading you haven’t time to translate) but when I have to do some real independent critical thinking, I always have to think in my native language. It’s a bit sad because it would be great opportunity to think in English and to speak my thoughts aloud but I can’t do that yet.

    Speaking of my writing and speaking abilities it’s good to remember that writing and speaking are two different things as you know very well and it’s possible to write well (still making some mistakes every now and then) but speak quite poorly or speak even not in the least due to the fear of making mistakes and other confidence issues or then your speech can be so heavy-accented that native speakers can’t understand you. I understand that a very capable English speaker means that I have all necessary and sufficient conditions and knowledge to become a very good English speaker if I keep practicing my spoken English regularly. Fortunately I haven’t so much problems with these issues anymore but sometimes my mind goes blank when I’m speaking English and I can’t say anything sensible. Such kind of situation happened for me in this week when one random foreigner asked me right directions to the center of city but fortunately it wasn’t serious English blackout because I gave right directions very briefly for him and I’m quite sure he found the right way with the help of my brief struggling guidance but I couldn’t recall some very simple key words and phrases. Thinking afterwards my performance was better than I thought and the main purpose of language in real life situations is simply communication and it really doesn’t matter at all how awkward or eloquent your speech sounds to other person. I believe that reasons behind my “blank mind syndrome” are mainly too small active vocabulary compared to my passive vocabulary, the lack of natural speech patterns, translation process between English and my native language and the lack of speech practice. That’s why your blog is so unique because it gives detailed instructions to solve these problems.

    Of course, even native speakers’ mind goes completely blank sometimes but it’s different thing and reasons behind it are probably different. And it’s also cultural issue because in some cultures it’s completely normal to remain silent even long moments during conversations and some cultures appreciate silence much more than some other cultures. For example, I think that my own Finnish culture appreciate silence much more than American culture and Finns interpret silence much differently than Americans during conversations: Finns usually interpret silence as a sign of careful thinking or as a very natural thing but Americans interpret silence as awkward moment and they want to fill those silent moments as fast as possible using any kind of filler phrases and small talk. Of course, these filler phrases and small talk are very useful for foreign English speakers to get their speech going and it’s also very stereotypical to assume that Finns appreciate silence and Americans not but I believe it can be generally true in the most occasions but I can be also a bit wrong because I don’t know any Americans personally.

    There is one more point I want to mention about reasons behind Benny’s failure in German listening comprehension test. He explains it by himself well and he wrote a very interesting article (with very interesting readers’ comments) about it:
    http://www.fluentin3months.com/passive-learning/ . Maybe you have read it already and the point of this article can be also obvious and trivial for you but the problem is that despite many language learners are lazy speakers because some reason or
    other, they are surprisingly often also lazy listeners and that combination is destructive on learners’ language skills. I have noticed this a long time ago by myself: I remember well times when spoken English was complete nonsense for me and I tried to solve this problem by listening awful lot English passively (actually this is passive hearing because the definition of the word “listen” includes that you are paying attention) but it didn’t solve my listening comprehension problem at all and I even think it’s possible that “passive listening” without paying sufficient attention had detrimental effect on my listening comprehension skills because your mind can learn to ignore English speech as background noise. It can sounds weird but I already have suspect it for a long time and Benny’s article gives confirmations for my suspicions.

  • To answer your points about Benny’s blog:

    1. He doesn’t advice to neglect writing and reading. He simply prioritizes speaking over those aspects of the language because speaking is how humans communicate with each other (quite naturally it includes listening comprehension as well because there’s no speaking without listening). Benny travels a lot and just has enough time to learn how to converse which is his priority!

    2. He didn’t perform all too well in the listening part not because he hadn’t learned German effectively but simply because he hadn’t honed his exam-based listening habits which require listening very attentively, paying attention to very specific details etc. He actually explains it in the blog post, and I couldn’t agree more – for normal day-to-day conversations you don’t need to be as good of a listener as for the comprehension part in the exam!

    By the way, I don’t doubt that if I were to sit some English exam right now and do the listening part, I might actually not perform ideally as well as I’d imagine simply because I wouldn’t have prepared for that specific task! In real life comprehension you don’t necessarily try to understand every single word; you perceive information in blocks but in exams you may be asked very specific questions about some little details which doesn’t really happen in real life. And if it does, in real life there’s always the option of asking to specify this or that particular thing etc, so that’s why exam listening part is harder that doing the same thing in real life.

    3. Issues with wrong pronunciation habits – well, I still strongly believe (and it’s backed up by my own experience on the blog http://accentadventure.com/) that you can change your pronunciation at ANY stage. I used to speak a certain way for years, and then I simply changed it because I wanted to – simple as that! With a little bit of effort it’s quite possible, and this approach more than offsets all the possible negative consequences on your pronunciation if you start speaking from the day one.

    Now, speaking of whether it’s possible to think very sophisticated and complex thoughts in English – well, here’s the funny thing about it.

    If you think about it, thinking is quite chaotic by its nature. I mean – when you think in your native language, are your thoughts always very well structured and follow a word-after-word structure just like when you speak? I don’t think so!!! Thoughts is just an entity of abstract concepts – images floating in your head etc – it’s only when you SPEAK that you actually put a real structure on it. So it all boils down to one’s ability to WORD those thoughts in English properly, and that’s where I strongly believe that anyone is capable of it – and I’ve no doubt you’re a very capable English speaker because you write in a very intelligent manner which speaks of a high skillset in this area.

    Thanks for commenting and chat soon!

    Regards,

    Robby

  • Juhapekka

    Thanks a lot for your opinions and advice, Robby! I definitely try to put them to good use. Benny’s blog was very interesting to read. There was huge amount of interesting articles and I have to read them more carefully when I have enough time. I even felt overwhelmed when I was reading his blog! I’m sure Benny’s blog is one of the most inspirational blogs and you and Benny are in the right that people can’t speak because they don’t speak!!? But there is at least few buts: Firstly he seems to neglect writing and reading, secondly I found Benny’s test results in German and he failed in listening comprehension http://www.fluentin3months.com/c2-exam-results-and-analysis/ http://www.fluentin3months.com/german-mission/ even though he had studied German 5 years beforehand. Of course, his three months German challenge is incredible, though! I still know that listening comprehension tests can be very tricky sometimes and I have even started to think listening skills as the most difficult language skill to master if you have overcome all mental and any kind of other barriers which prevented you to speak. Thirdly pronunciation can also be the Achilles heel of Benny’s method if you start to speak from day one because you can develop bad pronunciation habits if you don’t get enough input and you aren’t careful enough. I remember that you, Robby, have said those wrong habits can be corrected later but I’m still a bit sceptical if you start speak from day one but I can be wrong. Anyway, I liked Benny’s blog a lot and I have to read more his blog.

    By the way, there is at least one thing you can agree completely with academic approach: When I was in subject based English reading comprehension course in my university, our English teacher said that we have to understand English academic texts always contextually. She even forbad us to use any dictionaries because we should guess the meaning of new words from context. She said dictionaries are useful only as a last choice. Unfortunately, our university don’t offer courses about this topic and I want you to write about this topic also in the future. I have been too poor in this skill and I want to improve it as much as possible! However, she said also that real and deep understanding happens always in your own native language. Do you think it’s possible to think very difficult and complex scientific, philosophic and other mental issues in foreign language? I’m not sure and it seems nearly impossible task for me!

    P.S. I almost wrote scientifical in my comment but when I checked the correct spelling from the Internet, I found that scientific and scientifical could be two completely different concepts: scientifical can mean also pseudoscience!?

  • Hi SH.M,

    And thanks a lot for the comment!

    Yes, the lack of correction is one of the main arguments against self-practice, but it’s just an excuse, that’s all!

    Why?

    Simply because anyone is capable (with a little bit of effort) of spotting their own mistakes, drawing the right conclusions and adjusting their speech.

    Those few mistakes that will go unnoticed is a small price to pay considering the massive fluency improvement, and it’s plain wrong to assume that mistakes become “cemented” in one’s speech and can’t be rectified at a later stage.

    In fact, nothing could be further from the truth – even if you’ve been saying a certain thing wrong for years, the moment you realize it’s wrong it can be changed by repeating the correct word sequence a good few times and staying mindful about that phrase in the future.

    Matter of fact, I’ve written about it in the past, here’s the article: http://englishharmony.com/self-correction/

    Let me know if you’ve any further questions!

    Regards,

    Robby

  • Thanks for the lengthy comment, and I can totally relate to your struggles when learning German – as you said yourself, these fluency issues occur when learning ANY language the wrong (meaning – the traditional) way.

    So, how to embrace contextual language acquisition completely?

    It’s a good question.

    Yes, my blog and also the EH System deals with an existing issue when one has already acquired the language (in this case – English) the wrong way, and so we deal with re-wiring our brain by doing extensive spoken practice and learning plenty of natural speech patterns while at the same time doing away with direct translation and grammatical analysis.

    How to embrace contextual learning right from the beginning when learning a new language?

    I guess the answer is to create a completely new language teaching approach.

    Overhauling the existing academic approach completely.

    Getting rid of the hundreds of years long tradition of learning grammar rules and individual vocabulary words.

    Then, a brand-new system would have to be created whereby the ENTIRE educational system of learning languages would be based on the conversational aspect, namely – PHRASEOLOGY.

    When you’re just starting off, you learn the simplest phrases (and new vocab alongside).

    Then, it progresses to more complex concepts, but at no stage along the way students would be required to analyze syntax and grammar – they would just have to repeat and speak using phrases and individual language units.

    Well, as you can imagine, this is an utopian scenario and it’s most likely never going to happen simply because it’s impossible to turn the existing academic system on its head.

    What we can do at a micro-level is make real effort ourselves, and in your case it would mean to learn from German phrase-books, take some Skype lessons from German speakers from time to time, and then slowly progress into writing and speaking in German while leaving the grammar study part out of the equation.

    Yes, it’s harder than the traditional approach, and I know the temptation to do so is great because it’s so easy to walk down the trodden path.

    Some people, however, have embraced the conversational way of acquiring new languages, and a vivid example of that is Benny the Irish polyglot, for example. You may want to check out his blog http://www.fluentin3months.com/ where he documents his language learning missions and his approach is just like I said – start speaking as early as you can. Struggle. Make mistakes.

    Still, your progress and fluency development is going to be far greater (matter of fact, you can acquire languages within a matter of months not years!) than if you spent long evenings pouring over grammar books.

    Yes, it’s hard.

    Yes, you have to step out of your comfort zone.

    It is, however, possible!

    Regards,

    Robby

  • SH. M.

    Hello Robby!
    I was discussing ways of improving English with one of my friends a few days ago.
    He believed that If you want to be a good English-speaker you’ll need someone to correct your mistakes while you’re speaking. because if you don’t, you’ll end up fill your head with wrong English sentences.
    I’ve just wanted to ask you if this is necessary? Do we need someone to correct are mistakes when we’re speaking?
    if yes, than probably I cannot improve my English. because it costs a lot of money for various English classes.
    Thanks for this awesome website!

  • Juhapekka

    This problem has been so familiar for me because I have learnt all my irregular verbs that way and also I’ve made almost all the other mistakes that you’ve written in “3 Ways of Hard-wiring Unnatural English Collocations into Your Brain” http://englishharmony.com/wrong-english-learning/ . Especially I’ve memorized thousands upon thousands English words with corresponding translation in my native language. That’s why I know too well the problems in that traditional school method. Traditional school methods are efficient when it comes to reading, writing and doing grammar tests but when you’re trying to speak it’s amazingly serious problem. Anyway, I don’t suffer from unnatural English collocations as much as I did before because I have read and listened sufficiently that these activities have wired natural collocations slowly but surely into my mind and I have started to forget harmful unnatural collocations. And I never memorize unnatural collocations anymore and I use mainly only English-English dictionaries. Therefore I thought that it’s not my problem anymore because I have embraced the new method where I learn only natural English collocations but then I realized it’s not the case: I’m making the exact same mistakes in the present moment but in different language.

    Namely I’m learning German irregular verbs exactly the same way:
    bringen-bringt-brachte-hat gebracht with corresponding translation in my native language which is in this particular case
    tuoda, viedä. I wonder why am I doing it even now and haven’t I learnt the lesson from your blog even now? In search of this problem I concluded that perhaps because our german teachers said we have to learn them by heart and it’s technically easier and faster memorize unnatural collocation bringen-bringt-brachte-hat gebracht-tuoda, viedä which makes grammatical sense than take more time to find 4 natural collocations where those 4 verb forms occur naturally and memorize those natural collocations. Actually, it takes perhaps over 4 times more time. The situation is especially relevant when you’re busy and you have to learn irregular verbs fast for exams, for example, and when you are beginner and you haven’t had enough vocabulary to find proper simple enough collocations. And it’s also hard to break the old habit completely. In other words I have exactly the same problem than the girl in your video but in German. If I don’t do anything, I’m afraid that except I have English fluency issue I’ll have soon serious German fluency issue. It’s also difficult and hard learn new words contextually without exact translation in your language if you are beginner in that particular language. I even wonder whether it’s possible at all and how little child learn his native language contextually. I know that adults have different abilities to learn languages than children but my point is that it’s difficult to embrace natural contextual learning especially if you are beginner in that particular language.

    As a side note I have still noticed how useful natural contextual learning is in my German studies because normally if you want to say “in the school” and “to the school” in German, for example, at least in principle you have to memorize all prepositions which require accusative or dative (an, auf, hinter, in, neben, über, unter, vor, zwischen; this is, by the way, excellent example how unnatural collocations are formed in basic German studies because almost all German students memorize this unnatural collocation by heart and after they are able to say this collocation incredibly fast) and then remember all grammar rules about 4 german cases nominative, accusative, dative and genitive and decide which grammar case I have to use in that particular phrase and, of course, you have to memorize German case table where is 16 case forms and choose only one right option and only after this long analysises you can say the correct expressions “in the school” and “to the school” in German. Sounds really complicated and difficult, isn’t it? This kind of analysis hampers surely your German fluency very seriously and I have thought that I never learn to speak German fluently. I have also thought that contextual learning could be the solution to the problem because you can simply memorize expressions “in der Schule” and “in die Schule” without analyzing anything and then you can use them without much thinking. In the light of contextual learning German fluency isn’t perhaps so far away, though. And if I think about my native language Finnish whose grammar is perhaps even more complicated than German grammar (There is 16 cases in Finnish: nominative, accusative, genitive, partitive, inessive, elative, illative, adessive, ablative, allative, essive, translative, abessive, comitative, instructive and prolative. And plus all other grammar rules that I haven’t any clue and the same complicated analysis process and I don’t even know how many case forms are in Finnish case table!) but despite this I can honestly say that Finnish grammar is the simplest and the easiest grammar for me but still English grammar causes difficulties for me.

    In the light of these things perhaps it’s all about contextual natural learning. But the main problem for me and other language learners is how to embrace contextual natural learning completely? It’s difficult because sometimes temptation to use dictionaries and grammar books too much is too big!

    I know this is maybe a little off-topic because your blog deals only with English fluency issues but all language fluency issues are probably universal and you are one of the best persons to answer this question because unfortunately there isn’t German harmony (Deutsch harmonie) in the internet. Hopefully you got my points and any advice concerning English or languages in general is the most welcome.