If you’re anything serious about improving your spoken English – and I bet you are otherwise you wouldn’t be reading my blog! – your English fluency is inevitably experiencing growth over time, it just can’t be otherwise. Regardless of all ups and downs you may encounter while having conversations with other English speakers, your English fluency trend is always going up – even if you don’t notice it!
Of course, your fluency trend may be steeper than that of someone else’s, and it’s only natural because not all foreigners are getting the same amount of passive and active English immersion. And it’s actually totally understandable because everyone has their own fluency requirements depending on how much they use the English language in everyday life. For many of us, foreigners, practical life determines if we’re going to develop our English fluency at a fast pace or stay on a plateau for years.
Anyway, today’s article is about your English fluency management and it’s especially relevant to those who experience sharp drops in fluency resulting in the infamous English fluency issue.
Getting tongue-tied and stopping in a middle of a sentence, getting a feeling as if your head is stuffed full with thousands of English words and you know EXACTLY what you want to say but you’re unable to say anything, making stupid mistakes… These are the typical symptoms of the English fluency issue and what’s really baffling is the fact that we, foreigners, often experience such terrible moments right after having been absolutely fluent.
We’re hitting the heights of our English fluency graphs, our confidence is very high, we’re achieving a near-native level of spoken English, and then suddenly we experience a downturn in our ability to express ourselves! It may even become so bad that on certain situations we find it hard to say anything at all, and it can be very, very distressing indeed…
So how do you manage these peaks of your English fluency trend? How do you prevent the drops from being so sharp? To find answers to these questions, please read the rest of today’s blog post!
The Two Possible Variations of The Peak
of Your English Fluency Graph
When you reach your top performance in terms of fluency and ability to express yourself properly when conversing with other foreign and native English speakers, you have two possible future scenarios for your future fluency graph.
Number one – you may quite naturally stay more or less at the same level as depicted by the red graph. Plenty of foreigners manage to stay in this state of fluency for long periods of time – some even permanently – largely due to the fact that they’ve acquired their spoken English outside classrooms.
Number two – you may experience sudden drops in fluency which are represented by the green graph. Why it happens in certain people depends on a multitude of different factors, but the most common ones are the following:
- speaking too fast;
- trying to match native English speakers in terms of pronunciation;
- becoming overconfident;
- preparing sentences in your head before speaking out loud.
I think it’s quite obvious what I’m trying to say here – if you allow yourself to get carried away and become too excited, you run the risk of reaching a point where your brain simply can’t handle it any more. You basically create an information overload situation for yourself and then you’re stuck in a limbo of poor English fluency for quite some time.
Therefore it’s paramount that you spot any signs of overconfidence and don’t allow your English fluency graph reach the state of saturation where the information overload gets the better of you. As you can see in the image below, you’re so much more likely to retain your fluency for longer periods of time if you always pay close attention to how well you can speak in terms of speed, pronunciation and ability to use all sorts of idiomatic expressions and collocations.
How you do the actual monitoring and fluency management? Well, keep reading my friend and you’ll find it all out!
Fluency Management Methods
It’s easy to get excited if you find yourself chatting to someone and you’re feeling like born English speaker! The feeling is exhilarating, there’s no doubt about it, but you simply have to learn how to curb your excitement. The problem is that trying to impress someone often makes you start speaking to fast OR overdo your pronunciation.
You may think it doesn’t happen that often, but if you think about it for a while you’ll have to agree that sometimes you do want to show off your spoken English skills.
It might be your boss whom you’re trying to impress when he comes to you asking performance related questions. It might be a member of the opposite sex who you’re talking to, and by speaking like a native English speaker you’re subconsciously trying to evoke interest in that person towards you. It might be just about anybody who happens to be your conversation partner – if you’re eager to prove your ability as an English speaker, you might fall victim to the pitfall of your own arrogance!
What happens in those situations is – you simply start speaking too fast or you’re trying to pretend you’re capable of pronouncing words just like native speakers do. Next thing you know – your mind seizes up and you find yourself in a situation where you constantly stumble upon words and just can’t say what you want to say!
To prevent this from happening, you should learn to do the following things.
1. When you spot the early signs of excitement, FORCE yourself to speak slower and don’t fall for the common misconception that fluency in a language requires you to speak as fast as possible. Just read my analysis of an interview with the actor Benicio Del Toro, for instance, and you’ll see that speaking slowly isn’t necessarily a sign of lack of English fluency.
Yes, I know how it feels like when you know everything you want to say and you just want to spit it all out at once, but you simply have to realize that that’s exactly what causes the English fluency issue! So you just have to purposefully slow down your speech and calm yourself down at the same time:
- use hesitation filler phrases to fill awkward pauses while you’re considering what to say – such as “Well…”, “Let me see…”, “All right, so…” and similar. This way you’re buying more time for yourself to think of exactly what you’ll say instead of frantically saying just SOMETHING;
- don’t be afraid of using short, simple sentences if it helps you to wrap words around your thoughts;
- just generally speak slower whenever you start stuttering and getting tongue-tied.
2. Personally I find that when I’m getting very, very comfortable with pronouncing words with nearly perfect pronunciation, soon enough I’ll realize that I’ve gone too far and for some reason my mouth just can’t handle it. My lips start twisting and I get a feeling as if I have a hot potato in my mouth! Yes, yes, I know you’re going to tell me that it’s exactly how some describe the way native English speakers speak!
My experience combined with experience of my customers, however, tells a completely different story. Instead of aiming for perfect pronunciation you should find the right balance at which you’re feeling comfortable and your English fluency is STABLE.
The key here is to not to get too carried away with pronouncing “r”, “w”, “d”, “t”, “th” and other specific English sounds super-correctly. My personal approach, for example, involves the following things:
- pronouncing words CLEARLY AND SOMEWHAT SLOWER as opposed to muffled speech and mumbling often experienced in native English speakers;
- pronouncing the “s”, “z”, “t” and “d” sounds distinctly because it somehow organizes other sounds and helps you maintain your fluency;
- finding the right balance between my native and English pronunciation – and I don’t care what others think of my foreign accent as far as I can speak English fluently.
3. It’s VERY IMPORTANT to stay calm and focused on what you’re saying if you’re conversing with someone who’s constantly trying to rush your speech!
I’ve known a good few native English speakers in my life who’ll interrupt you at your slightest hesitation thus making it very, very difficult for you to have a normal conversation. It’s especially hard for us, foreign English speakers, because we’ll feel that they make assumptions about our level of English – it’s kind of as if they’re thinking “Hey buddy – you can’t speak as fast as me? I’m not going to waste my time on you then!”
In reality on many occasions those folks don’t think like that; over years I’ve come to realize they would speak in the same manner even with native speakers. There’s something about their personality that makes them cut your story short, stray off the topic and basically not pay attention to what you’re trying to say.
Regardless of their intentions, it’s PARAMOUNT YOU DON’T TRY TO RUSH YOUR SPEECH ❗
I can’t stress this enough because I’ve experienced terrible English fluency drops and confidence problems in the past having such conversations where I’ve been trying to please the other person.
Basically here’s what you should bear in mind in order to stay focused and calm at all times:
- make it your habit to finish off what you’ve been saying even if the other person interrupts you three times while you’re trying to make your point. Ignore it – it’s them being impolite, not you! – and when you’re finished, say something like: “You were saying something?”
- learn to remain calm and retain your inner peace because such conversations are often very irritating and have huge potential to make you feel like an idiot. Take a few deep breaths, and say to yourself: “I’m absolutely calm, focused, and I will not become agitated”;
- probably most importantly – always perceive yourself as an equal to others ❗ ; don’t think of yourself as a lesser person just because you’re a foreign English speaker or because your level of spoken English is a bit lower than that of the other person’s!
On the finishing note, remember that the easiest way of getting out of a situation when you really can’t say anything without risking to trigger a sharp fluency drop is by admitting just that. If you simply don’t have an opinion on the topic being discussed, just say “Sorry, but I don’t really know anything about …” or “Sorry, but I’m not into …” We foreign English speakers will often try to say just something because it’s kind of expected from us (once again it comes back to you trying to prove yourself and show off!) and not look at the actual matter at hand.
Thanks a lot for reading!
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!