I’m sure you’re familiar with the feeling when you think so much ABOUT HOW TO SAY something in English, that eventually you can’t say anything at all! Different English Tenses, verb forms and synonyms are swarming in your head and the information overload shuts your operational memory down, so to speak.
You mightn’t have given it a conscious thought, but all these problems originate in the fact that you prepare your speech before actually speaking out loud instead of speaking instantaneously. Besides, the more you think about HOW to respond to a question or say something in English, the more choices you have to make and the bigger the information overload becomes.
Consequently it may become nearly impossible for you to make a decision on what English Grammar Tense is to be used, what words would describe the situation best, and so on; also fear of making mistakes prevents you from saying AT LEAST SOMETHING just to get the speech going.
When you write, you can make well calculated decisions and decide what means of expression is the most appropriate for the given situation. When you have all but a split second to make that decision during an actual live conversation, your brain just cannot act that fast. When being forced to deliver an instant speech and make multiple choices at the same time, you may find it overwhelming, and you may develop a monkey-mind syndrome when you feel as if you’re paralyzed and completely unable to deliver a normal speech.
Somewhere during your quest for perfection quality of what you’re saying in English has taken over performance – the speech itself – and your perfectionist nature requires you to analyze almost everything you’re saying.
How to stop doing it? Why it’s happening? Find out answers to these and more questions by reading the rest of this blog post!
Information Overload – Bottleneck Effect
If preparing speech in your head and translating from your native language is often the case when you communicate with other English speakers, you can make it a dangerous ground for your English fluency. You see – if you don’t improvise when speaking English but treat speech as if you were writing it all down on a piece of paper, you need a lot of extra time to think through all grammar aspects while at the same time you’ve already opened your mouth to say something and your chat partner is expectantly looking at you.
Of course, you should never feel pressured into speaking too fast and you’re completely free to ignore your conversation partner’s arrogant behavior if they think you speak too slowly, or if they consider taking extra time as a sure sign of lack of spoken English skills.
One way or another, when you speak you have less time to think about what to say before you say it out loud than if you were writing and you could dedicate more time and resources to sculpting your English sentences to perfection.
And that’s when a bottleneck effect emerges – if you imagine all your English knowledge and skill being poured into a funnel, you obviously can’t process all that information and produce fluent English speech because of your natural limitations
Every human being can do only so much in terms of information processing, and that’s when information overload occurs. You want to make multiple decisions within a millisecond, and it inevitably makes your speech hesitant and unnatural
Before you produce an English sentence, you have to decide what Grammar Tense you should use – and you’ll make that decision based on English Grammar Tenses table you can easily depict in your mind’s eye. You’re thinking – “It happened before a certain moment in the past, therefore it calls for Past Perfect Tense which is formed using Simple Past form of the verb “to have” and adding the Past Participle of the main verb – “I had seen the movie before we watched it last night … we were watching it last night …” Hold on – do I have to use Simple Past or Past Continuous Tense? No, Past Continuous wouldn’t be the proper tense because I’m not really referring to the actual process of watching the movie – so I have to go with Simple Past instead…”
Such and similar speech preparation and planning processes would be going on in your head, and quite naturally it distracts you from the real task at hand – speaking!
Your general English knowledge might be profound, yet you can find yourself struggling to produce fluent speech, and all because there’s all this analyzing and planning going on in your head. It’s like as if you’re trying to predict all eventualities of what you might say, and then you’re trying to find the best option among them all.
Such approach to creating content in English would prove itself quite difficult even when writing – let alone speaking!
Paralyzed by Analysis? Say the First Thing on Your Mind!
Such paralysis by analysis situations are closely related to striving for perfection when speaking English, and I have to admit it’s quite understandable.
If you KNOW that there are many ways of saying the same thing, surely you want to make sure you’re saying in correctly and in the best way possible?
Fair enough, but don’t forget the bottleneck effect
When you’re having an actual English conversation, you have no time to make calculated decisions. You might be very good at multitasking, yet the additional stress and tension which is often present when you’re speaking with a real English speaking person will make it much harder to produce coherent and fluent English sentences than as if you were typing an e-mail, for example.
So how to deal with those situations when your mind seems to be swarming with words, English Grammar Tenses, conjugations and word lists and you obviously over-analyze the whole thing?
Just say the first thing on your mind!
Instead of trying to figure out which English Grammar Tense you should use, just go with the first one that comes to your mind! For instance, you’re chatting with someone at work and you’re asked when exactly you plan to take your holidays this year.
You have two options here. You can simply say: “I’m going for my holidays in six weeks, but this time we’re staying in the country, we’re not going abroad.” The other option is weighing all the pros and cons of the different ways of speaking about future actions.
“My holidays are booked, so it’s certain that I will take them. Maybe I can use WILL + verb Future form in this case – “I’ll go for my holidays in six weeks…” Hold on, hold on, the WILL + verb Future form is normally used when making instant decisions; my holidays were planned so I can probably use the GOING TO Future form which is used for future plans – “I’m going to go for my holidays in six weeks…” Wait. The whole thing has been already arranged; doesn’t it call for Present Progressive to be used? “I’m going for my holidays in six weeks…” Yes, that sounds like the best option in this situation!”
This whole analysis in your mind wouldn’t take anywhere near as long it took you to read it, of course. I was just trying to make it obvious to you how much brain capacity is used unnecessarily when you speak English and over-analyze things. It may take just a couple seconds, but it will still damage your fluency, and what’s even more important – prevent you from speaking automatically.
Just think about any other acquired skill you have – be it driving a car, playing online games, or just about anything else that you’re quite good at.
Do you think about HOW to switch gears and WHEN to switch from the second into the third gear while driving? If you would, your car would be jerking as if you’d sat behind the steering wheel for the first time!
Do you put conscious effort into thinking WHICH buttons to press when you play World of Warcraft? But of course you don’t – or else you wouldn’t be capable of acting fast!
Personally I’m good at typing fast – I don’t even have to look at the keyboard and my fingers are dancing over the keys by themselves. The moment I try to switch on my conscious mind – it gets much harder and I wouldn’t be even able to call out all the letter arrangement without placing my fingers on the keyboard and imagining that I’m typing.
As you can see, the common thing in all those aforementioned examples is automatic action. If you act automatically, you’ll perform well, and your conscious mind doesn’t even have to be engaged. It’s like when you’re driving and chatting with someone, you’re not even paying attention to the driving process.
Your English speech should be no different. You have to speak automatically, and learn to leave the over-analyzing behind you
Sure, by saying the first thing on your mind you’re bound to make some mistakes along the way, but then you always have to remember that it’s only going to get better and better over time.
When you engage in English conversations with other English speakers, your subconscious mind adopts natural English speech patterns used by others and you make less mistakes – you just have to believe in yourself to keep yourself motivated.
It’s essential to learn to accept that you’re going to make more mistakes when speaking without much analyzing, yet I think it’s price well worth paying in order to speak fluently and without much hesitation.
As you get better you’ll realize that on most occasions the first thing that comes in your mind IS the right thing to say, and on those occasions when it’s not – just go back and correct yourself OR just do nothing but simply take a notice of the mistake so that you can eradicate it. A little bit of thinking is necessary to get your English speech right, so I have to give some ground here and admit that it’s not just about blabbering away anything that comes to your mind.
By saying that you have to speak the first thing on your mind I meant that you just have to stop making choices between what to say, but I don’t deny that you have to know WHAT YOU WANT to say!
It’s also very easy to get stuck in a middle of an English conversation if you’re trying to speak very fast and kind of get everything out of your mouth, but there’s nothing to say simply because you don’t know much about the topic, or you just haven’t got an opinion on it.
So first make sure you KNOW WHAT you want to say, but then stop analyzing too much and just say something. When you get used to speaking English fluently you’ll be amazed at how good it feels when you can speak without any conscious effort!
P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!