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12 Reasons Why Spoken English is Just Like Playing a Guitar

Improve Spoken English

1. You may be good at recognizing chords & songs, but you need to be able to play them yourself in order to… play them!

If I told you that watching Keith Richards perform and deliver his best guitar pieces for three months straight will make you into a decent guitar player, would you believe me?

I guess not!

Then why would you ever listen to someone who wants you to buy into the learn-English-by-listening hype? Ability to use your mouth in order to speak in English AND using your guitar to play a song aren’t so dissimilar because it all boils down to your ability to DO something rather than just RECOGNIZE something.

It’s all about PASSIVE vs ACTIVE English, music or whatever practical skill we’re looking at!

When I picked up the guitar for the first time and tried my first chord, I sucked at it big time. And it’s no wonder I was so bad at it – I simply had never tried doing it before. I had been checking out some related information previously though, and I had a general idea of how certain chords would have to be placed.

Doing it myself turned out to be a totally different story altogether, and the very same goes with using your mouth in order to speak in English. You may be able to understand other people fairly well, yet when you open your mouth it’s the same as trying your first chord on a guitar.

Remember: spoken English – just like guitar play – is a very PRACTICAL SKILL!

2. You don’t necessarily need to know music theory to play a guitar, and you don’t need to know theoretical English grammar to speak!

To be totally honest with you, I don’t know any music theory related information. I can hardly remember the letters describing those few chords I’m able to play on my guitar (G, D, E and so on), let alone some more advanced knowledge.

And also the fact that I don’t have a good ear for music doesn’t help.

It doesn’t prevent me from playing some popular songs though, and I’m not concerned about my lack of theoretical knowledge whatsoever!

Why would I even want to spend any time on it anyway, if all I’ll ever do with my guitar is just play songs for my own enjoyment? I don’t aspire to become a professional musician or something, and even if that were the case – have you not heard of some renowned singers such as Luciano Pavarotti not being able to read notes?

Theory is one thing, but your ability to put on a show is quite another. Sure enough, the two can go together, but absence of the former oftentimes has no bearing on the latter.

Same concept applies on your spoken English performance.

You may be well versed in Grammar terms AND able to speak fluently. Theoretical Grammar knowledge, however, isn’t a pre-requisite for fluency no more than ability to read notes is necessary to play a guitar.

All I’m doing when learning a new song is just mimicking other people on YouTube, and I also do the very same when improving my spoken English skills. I mimic other people’s speech and I leave grammar theory to English teachers.

3. You can spend 10 years of your life honing your guitar play to perfection, or you can start playing different songs right off the bat – same goes with your English speaking ability!

When I picked up my guitar for the first time, I was facing two options.

I could start learning the very basics of guitar play and spend a lot of time on perfecting my chords and strumming technique before I even attempted to learn any songs.

The other option was much simpler – I could just choose a simple song, and learn how to play it!

It was a no brainer.

I went for the second option and never looked back!

When a foreign English speaker works on his or her English, they generally face the same dilemma. It’s all about choosing between a fast and effective acquisition of colloquial speech patterns and a long road to fluency by a way of learning profound vocabulary, grammar and what not.

I think it’s also a no-brainer.

Why would you spend long years aiming for perfection, if you can reach conversational English fluency first and then widen your vocabulary and enrich your means of expression throughout the rest of your life?

4. To play a guitar, you need to know chords (English idiomatic expressions and phrases), you won’t get far by picking strings (individual words)!

One of the biggest problems foreign English speakers experience is the ‘writing-mode’ of their mind whereby they’re trying to form sentences in their head by sticking individual words together.

The resulting speech is often hesitant, unnatural and riddled with mistakes.

The key to success is using word combinations (phrases, idiomatic expressions, idioms and so on) – just like any guitar player would use combinations of strings (chords).

It’s common sense among musicians, so why it’s not the same in the English teaching industry?

The answer is as simple as it’s shocking: due to the specific nature of English studies (textbooks, translation, written assessments tests and so on) the main focus is put on developing writing skills and comprehension ability.

Plus the fact that translation plays a major role in the traditional English teaching industry, and the compound effect of it all results in English students being focused way too much on details (notes, strings) instead of seeing the bigger picture (chords, song lyrics).

5. Just like advanced guitar chords can be simplified, you can use simple language when speaking in English!

Professional guitar play like that of Slash or Jimi Hendrix is great to listen to and enjoy – just like we can listen to an eloquent native English speaker deliver a motivational speech – Tony Robbins would be a good example.

What are the chances of you being able to deliver the same kind of music or speech?

Next to none. People I just mentioned are one of the greatest in their respective fields.

It doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t play the SAME songs or talk about the SAME subjects.

We’re all capable of it, it’s just a matter of simplifying the chords and using simpler language, that’s all there is to it!

I can play Knocking on Heaven’s Door and feel as if I were Slash (I like Guns n’ Roses version better than Bob Dylan’s original) despite using only 4 simple chords. Slash must have been using 100 different finger placements, but I can do just fine with a few chords.

Of course, if I ever feel like it, I can work on my guitar play and achieve quite a decent level – just like I’ve been working relentlessly on my English fluency.

It’s beside the point, however, because simplicity is not to be scorned upon regardless of your level of English skills or guitar skills. Bob Dylan is still using the same basic chords, and native English speakers are also using fairly simple expressions in their daily conversations.

6. You can play almost all popular songs using a few basic chords – and you can get along with the most commonly used phrases in your daily conversations!

Did you know that most of popular hit songs are actually very simple? You may want to watch this video where a bunch of very well-known songs are performed using only 4 chords:


I go about my guitar play the very same way!

I don’t spend countless hours trying to figure out how to play complicated songs. I go with the ones that are simple and can be mastered within a matter of minutes!

The same concept also applies when it comes to your spoken English improvement.

If you know how to use the most commonly used English phrases and expressions, you’ll be able to get by just fine in most daily situations. Just like those few basic guitar chords, a bunch of English phrases are used more frequently than others.

Well, in reality there’s more than just a bunch of them – I guess you realize it’s just figurative speech, but you got the jist of it anyway!

7. If you make an odd mistake here and there when playing a guitar OR having a conversation in English, your speech AND your song are understandable anyway!

Even if you’re on a stage performing in front of a hundred thousand large crowd, you’re bound to miss some finger placement when playing a guitar for three hours straight.

Now, is that going to result in mass riots and are people going to demand their money back for the terrible music experience? Of course not! Those relatively few mistakes are going to be drowned out by the rest of the sounds, and what people are going to hear is a SONG – not individual notes!

Your spoken English performance is equally going to be judged by how good is the show you put on. In real life conversations people aren’t too concerned about minor mistakes as far as you get the message across successfully.

Oftentimes it’s actually your desire to speak without mistakes that will result in an ever decreasing level of your fluency, so you may want to experiment with your speech and FORCE yourself to make mistakes. It’s weird, but you may just find that some sort of a reverse psychology works here and the less you care about your performance, the better you get at it!

By the way – I find the same with my guitar play. The less I focus on technical details, the better I can play.

8. Want to learn how to play a song quickly? Copy someone! And you can also copy other English speakers which is one of the fastest ways of improving your English!

Copying and mimicking others is how any living creature on the planet learns essential life skills.

The other option is the trial and error way, and in guitar playing terms it would mean composing your own song. If we draw parallels between playing a guitar and speaking in English, composing a song from scratch would be equivalent to constructing new sentences every time you speak!

It’s less effective because you’d be spending a lot of time on THINKING whereas if you mimic and repeat what you hear, the process is more or less automated.

First you watch how a particular song is played – what chords are involved, what the strumming pattern is like and so on. Then you can just try to replicate it which is by far easier than trying to read notes and decipher specific symbols.

When you mimic phrases and new words used by other English speakers, you’re also utilizing the same principle. You’re not trying to read specific symbols and notes (plan your sentence according to grammar tenses and syntax), and you’re not creating any phrases from scratch.

You’re replicating other people’s speech, and by the way – that’s how we all learned out native language. By mimicking!

9. To learn how to play a particular song on a guitar OR how to say a certain thing in English, you need to practice is many times over.

If you want to be capable of playing a song without making ANY conscious effort to recall the necessary chords and their sequence, you have to repeat them a good few times.

You do it once – it might feel a bit awkward.

You do it for the second time – you start getting better at it.

The third repetition feels just about right.

By the time you’ve played the song ten times over, you’ve already imprinted its structure into your brain and your fingers. It starts happening instinctively, and that’s when you can start trying to sing along because your fingers are capable of doing their job independently (I personally find it impossible to learn how to play and sing a song at the same time!).

When you learn new vocabulary and phraseology, repetition is also how you make it permanently ingrained into your brain!

You need to repeat the new word a good few times before you’re able to speak it out loud instinctively, and just like playing a song on a guitar, you’re much better off learning any new words and phrases (chords) contextually (as part of a song) as opposed to learning them individually (just a chord on its own).

If you associate one chord with another – create word associations or the so-called collocations – you will remember them much better because one chord will lead to the other (one word will literally pull the next word out of your mouth!).

10. If you want to be good at playing a guitar – be prepared to invest long hours of practicing! And guess what? Spoken English is no different!

Practice makes one perfect.

We all know this proverb, and it’s 100% correct in the context of playing a guitar AND speaking in English.

You have to invest A LOT OF TIME doing both if you want to achieve a decent level of ability to perform, and while it’s quite OBVIOUS that guitar play requires a lot of practice, the same can’t be said about practicing one’s spoken English.

Everyone will admit that in order to play a guitar you have to actually DO it, while there’s still a large percentage of English language teachers and students who’ll ignore the spoken aspect of English and focus on the theoretical knowledge.

It’s beside the point, however, because irrespective of the mainstream English teaching industry the fact remains that one has to practice regularly in order to improve one’s ability to speak.

Whether it’s your fingers you’re using or your mouth, you have to do a lot of practice in order to make that body part perform the activity in question instinctively and confidently.

11. You don’t necessarily need to play in a band to improve your guitar play, and you don’t necessarily need to speak with others in order to develop your English fluency!

When you play a guitar, you’re totally fine doing it on your own.

Sure enough, if you’re a young fella with lots of musical potential, you may seek out like-minded people and start a garage band or something.

Playing for your own enjoyment, however, is what most people will settle for, and I can’t see any reason why spoken English practice would be perceived differently.

Speaking in English with yourself is not so dissimilar to playing a guitar on your own!

Your vocal chords = your strings.

You produce sounds with your mouth = you produce music with your guitar.

And if you think about it – when you play a guitar, you may as well sing along in which case you wouldn’t think of it as something weird, would you?

So, I can’t really understand why speaking with oneself would be considered as something out of ordinary while singing and playing a guitar is cool with everyone!

The way I see it, it’s pretty straightforward.

Whichever physical activity we’re looking at, it’s YOU who does it.

Playing a guitar.

Driving a car.

Speaking in English.

Working out in a gym.

It’s your body and your mind that work in unison in order to perform a certain activity, and any sentimental or emotional deliberations are out of question if you want to become good at that particular activity.

12. Stress plays a huge part in your ability to play a guitar and speak in English.

You might have learned to play a guitar quite well, but performing in front of a crowd is a whole new ballgame.

Your hands will start shaking, and you will mess everything up.

Same goes with your spoken English performance.

There are certain occasions – speaking with strangers, in front of an audience or at important events – when stress will get the better of you and you will start stuttering, hesitating and making a lot of mistakes.

It’s bound to happen because that’s how we humans are built, but there’s one thing you can do about it in order to get better at performing in front of an audience.

What is it?

Go back to number 10.

PRACTICE.

Yeap.

A lot of practicing doing the RIGHT THING – playing songs AND speaking in English as opposed to acquiring theoretical knowledge – is #1 thing that will help you perform quite well even when stressed out.

What’s thing #2?

Well – you’ve just got to perform in front of a larger audience!

Take every opportunity to speak with other English speakers, and over time your stress levels will go down.

And if it’s the guitar play we’re talking about – you may as well play in front of your family members or friends in order to get used to it.

It’s not rocket science, my friends, just a lot of practice and hard work, and you’ll thank yourself for it down the line!

Robby

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!

 

English Harmony System

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Hi Sunny Liu,

    Unfortunately, the same old-school grammar-translation method is still pretty much alive everywhere in the world, and I’m not sure if it’s ever going to change…