Whether you’re a Chinese exchange student heading off to do some studying in Massachusetts, a Russian construction worker getting on a plane having secured a contract in Australia or just another Latvian like myself coming to Ireland to try out luck in finding a job to save up some money – we all have one thing in common. Namely – we haven’t had much experience with speaking English in everyday situations.
We may have been academically tutored at quite high standards yet our capability to start and maintain a simple conversation may be limited simply because it’s not normally taught in schools.
By far the biggest problem is that you don’t have much time to consider what you’re going to say. When you’re having a conversation, you’re quite naturally expected to answer questions or make your point within a short period of time – and it will prove difficult for many foreign English speakers.
Many of us will be more comfortable writing than speaking and it’s quite understandable – when you write you have all the time in the world to plan exactly what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it.
You can construct grammatically perfect sentences, edit them if need be, and take your time finding the best fitting words to convey the message. It’s a different story altogether when you speak – you have to say what’s on your mind and for some it may present a serious challenge because their mind just goes blank. It’s the so-called information overload when your mind is attempting to process way too much information because all you keep thinking is what grammar tense to use, what are the best fitting words for the given situation, how to say it correctly so that you don’t make a mistake…
The key aspects of fluent English speech is the ability to think in English and speak using plenty of collocations and idiomatic expressions; it enables you to speak automatically because nearly every word you say will trigger the next one. It’s the best place to be because you don’t even have to think about what you say – you can just speak as if you’re speaking in your native language.
Anyway – this article is about how to use a certain shortcut in situations when your fluency is hindered and you’re desperate to get the message across successfully. So here we go!
How to Boost Your English Fluency?
Find Anchor Words!
When you’re going through a stage of bad English fluency, you just can’t seem to be able to produce nice, coherent and long sentences.
Do you have to strive for it by all means, though? There’s nothing wrong with speaking in shorter sentences, but you may even find that difficult because of the weird feeling inside your head. It feels as if you know everything you want to say, but it just doesn’t come out of your mouth – are you familiar with this sensation?
What I suggest you to do instead of forming a logical sequence of words in your head is the following:
Find a few anchor words and then you’ll find it much easier to say what you want ❗ The resulting speech probably won’t be as eloquent as you may want it to be but still this technique will enable you to break the silence and get the speech going.
So here’s how it happens.
Let’s say for instance you’re running into someone on the street and you’re feeling a little bit awkward when speaking with that person you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s normal to be embarrassed and you can be almost certain they feel the same way; however, they might not experience the same English fluency issues. When you’re asked “And what’s been going on in your life lately?”, all possible answers start crossing your mind and suddenly your head feels stuffed with everything you could say and you find it hard to verbalize those thoughts.
Now, don’t start a sentence with “I…” or “I have…” and then try to follow it with other words in the correct order and grammar tense. There’s too much going on in your head at the moment and trying to figure out WHAT to say and HOW to say it at the same time might just create the information overload. You may start questioning every step of the sentence creation process and as a result your fluency would be seriously hindered – “I went… ehh… (or maybe “I’ve been to?”) on holidays… ehh… (or should I say “to holidays?”) to Miami a couple weeks… ehh… (or should I say “a couple of weeks?”) ago…”
It may even get as bad as having a number of different responses conflicting with each other in your mind which can be very, very difficult to deal with because you just can’t speak when you’ve three possible answers coming out of your mouth at the same time – “I just came back from Miami… “I went to Miami a few weeks ago…” “I and my wife went to Miami…” “I went to Miami with my wife on our honeymoon…”
Those of you, who haven’t had such spoken English issues, may find it weird that somebody could ever have such a specific case of English speech anxiety whereby one finds it very difficult to express one’s thoughts because various sentences keep appearing in their mind. Those of you, who have the issue, will know how hard it is to suppress that feeling and stop preparing speech in your head before you actually speak…
Well, as I previously stated, the key is to find anchor words and phrases ❗
So if you have an idea of what it is that you’ve done lately and that’s worth telling about (sometimes you’re unable to say something in English simply because you don’t have an opinion on it – then it’s a different story altogether and it’s not really an issue), isolate that exact word or phrase in your mind, and then just say it out loud!
In this case take a split second to get your head around all the different phrases and sentences floating in your mind and THEN CHOOSE ONE OF THEM. Don’t spend any time considering which one is the best fitting one, or which one is the most grammatically correct. By doing so you’ll only increase your confusion, so just take one of them, isolate from the rest, and speak it – “Just came back from Miami.”
That’s it. No fussing around the other things that you MIGHT say or that you SHOULD HAVE said. You just came back from Miami, and at this moment in time it’s what you’ve said, full stop.
Now, you have to take one step at a time and carry on with adding on more bits of information to what you’ve just said. Well, your old friend would most likely comment on it anyway, and then you’ll go from there. But if he waits on you to say something more, you’ll pick another relatively easy phrase from the ones floating in your mind – “I went to Miami with my wife…” “Does he know I’m married?” “He doesn’t know I’m married!” “I got married last year…”
“By the way (this is a hesitation filler phrase you can use to buy more time)… I got married last year.”
Keep it short, and keep it simple. If you’re in a state of a bad English fluency, you don’t want to start constructing long sentences unless you’ve regained your confidence. Slow your speech down, pronounce each word as clearly as you can and force yourself to ignore anything that may influence your speech – others’ attitude, your own embarrassment, anything!
Also, bear in mind that you don’t necessary have to build a full sentence; all you have to do to regain your fluency is to SAY JUST ENOUGH to get the message across.
You can use this simple yet effective technique in any life situation – it’s not just limited to meeting up people in informal settings.
Phone conversations, work meetings, job interviews, dealing with banks and other institutions – whenever you find yourself not being able to express yourself properly (whether it’s due to higher-than-normal stress levels, social anxiety, or as a result or academic education) – just speak using such simple few word sentences!
“Hey buddy, can you tell me where the canteen is? Today’s my first day in this company and I’m not familiar with this building yet!”
[“You have to go straight ahead…” “Last door on your right is the canteen…” “Just follow these two guys – they’re going to their lunch-break…” “Go to the end of this corridor; the last door on your right is the right one…”] – if you attempt to speak a long, proper sentence and combine everything that you’re thinking of, you risk messing it all up – “You have to go straight down to… ehh… straight ahead… mhh… and then take the last… ehh… use the last door to your right hand side… sorry… on your right… it’s the canteen.”
Instead, use a couple of short phrases accompanied by appropriate hand gestures for better information perception and it’s going to sound and look a whole lot more fluent – “Go straight. Canteen is the last door on your right!”
Remember – don’t try to speak as fast as you can as it can only make things worse 😉
P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!