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Probably the most important piece of advice for foreign English speakers who wish to improve their English fluency is to shift their focus from technical details of their speech to the actual conversation and the person they’re speaking with.
You know, we foreigners often tend to over-analyze when we speak English and it can lead to making all sorts of stupid mistakes. Being a perfectionist isn’t going to make you into a fluent English speaker, so I’d say it’s very, very important to learn how to let it go and speak without being conscious of the way you speak, the way you pronounce words, and finally – the actual words you choose when speaking!
It’s even possible to speak fluent English with a limited active vocabulary, and as far as you don’t think about what you can’t say but just say what you can, you’ll be more conversationally fluent than some other person who might possess more formal knowledge yet they’re too conscious to put it to good use!
In other words, it’s all about being fully involved when speaking with someone instead of adopting an observer’s role and scrutinizing your own speech ❗
Well, I know, I know that it’s easier said than done, but you just have to keep trying. Every time you’re having a conversation with someone in English, you have to force yourself to forget about formal English knowledge and grammar rules, and just speak.
If you’re a driver, you’ll understand the following comparison.
When you sit in the car and drive on your own, you don’t pay too much attention to details like switching gears, accelerating, breaking and turning the steering wheel. If you’ve been driving for a good while, the whole process happens automatically and your body’s muscular reflexes take over your conscious mind. You don’t need to put any effort into dwelling over the technical aspects of driving and therefore you can drive pretty well.
Now, imagine you have a passenger sitting in your car that you want to impress or in whose presence you get a bit nervous. Good buy, confident driving! You simply become conscious of your driving style, you start paying attention to details, and it inevitably leads to jerking while switching gears, breaking too fast and making similar stupid mistakes.
It has happened to me a few times and it’s ridiculous how much difference is made by focusing all of your attention to HOW drive instead of JUST driving!
Same goes with speaking English.
If you are conscious of the very process of speaking, if you constantly keep thinking to yourself “Oh God, how do I say this thing right? I have to say it right; I can’t afford making another mistake… I’m going to make a complete fool of myself!” – then you’ll definitely make a fool of yourself! You won’t be able to speak fluent English if you remain conscious of your speech, that’s a fact.
And by the way, when I said you have to forget about grammar rules and formal English, I didn’t mean you have to forget THE rules. You just have to learn to stop thinking ABOUT the rules, that’s it ❗
Here’s another example on how being completely involved during a conversation saves an awful lot of stress and eliminates most of mistakes you’d make if you were constantly thinking about what can possibly go wrong when you open your mouth.
This time it’s about me speaking Russian, not English, but just bear with me for a moment and you’ll realize that it’s still relevant in the context of this article.
So, as you may know, I’m a native Latvian speaker, but I also speak Russian – a language I learnt when I was still a kid because Russian is widely used in my country. I haven’t spoken Russian in ages, however, and most of my active Russian vocabulary has slowly migrated towards the passive one. In real life terms it means I can understand everything, yet when I open my mouth I have to make effort to produce a fluent speech (it’s somewhat similar to the English fluency issue.)
Anyway, recently I happened to be at a party where some Russian speaking people were present. I would have thought I’d be struggling big time using Russian (on rare occasions I do meet a Russian speaking couple in my estate but I’m always very conscious of my own speech when I’m speaking with them) yet to my surprise… I had no problems whatsoever communicating with Russian speakers at the party!
The only reason I can think of is – I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I have to speak Russian. I didn’t think – “Hold on, hold on, Robby, now you have to make sure not to make a single mistake. You’re a Russian speaker after all, and if you show them that you can’t speak fluently, it’s going to look very bad!” I was so focused on the topic we discussed, that it kind of didn’t register with me that I’m using Russian, I was just rambling away!
Later on I thought – “But how come I spoke so well after all these years using no Russian at all? Now my English active vocabulary is definitely bigger than that of Russian so I should have experienced a considerable lack of fluency!”
Well, my friends, it’s all down to being involved and not being conscious of the way you speak. It can literally do wonders to your English fluency, and despite the example above being me speaking Russian, the very same thing applies when I speak English.
The more excited I am when speaking with someone, the more I forget that I’m not supposed to make mistakes or that I have to be perfect, and as a result I speak much, much better ❗
Once my English speech process is completely taken over by my vocal cords and mouth muscles which have been very well trained over the years, I stop being conscious of my own speech and it tends to correct itself. Then I can speak English fluently and effortlessly.
So can you! 😉
P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!