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Have You Ever Thought About Your MOUTH As a MUSCLE?

Muscle Memory English speaking

How many years have you been working on your English? Two? Five? Ten?

Guess what – I’ve been receiving e-mails from folks having been trying to achieve English fluency for TWENTY YEARS to no avail ❗

And I can see exactly why it’s happening – the heck, years ago I was among those struggling English speakers myself! – it’s because most foreign English speakers don’t perceive their mouth as a muscle.

Are you confused?

What I mean by saying – perceive their mouth as a muscle?

Well, it’s EXACTLY what I mean – your mouth for you as a foreign English speaker is just like muscles for a bodybuilder or just about any other athlete or indeed for any person on this planet who’s using their body to move their arms and legs to lift things and move around.

You’re using your mouth to produce English words, phrases and sentences in order to communicate with other English speakers, and there’s actual body movement involved in every step of the way – your lips, tongue, jaws and a whole array of facial muscles are actively involved to help you with the task!

Biggest Misconception: English Language is a Purely Mental Discipline

Just because English language learning in a traditional setting involves a lot reading, writing and paper-based evaluation, we tend to believe that learning and using a language is something completely different from physical performance.

For my money 99 people out of 100 would say that Physical Education has nothing in common with English, and I’m afraid that even that one person having a different opinion would do so just for the sake of being in the opposition…

And I can’t blame them for having such an opinion for the simple reason that in academic environment the spoken aspect of English is indeed being neglected and it’s no wonder people can’t see why English and physical performance would have anything in common.

If you rephrase the question and ask the same folks what giving a 3 hour long speech on a stage and running a 10K distance have in common, I’m pretty sure you’ll get different results.

It’s quite OBVIOUS that both speaking on a stage and running are physically exhausting, so now we’ve come one step closer to the true concept of English fluency which involves your body to a much greater extent than people may think.

Ever Heard of Muscle Memory In Terms of Sports?

Surely you’ve heard about the concept of muscle memory and how it helps people in all walks of life perform highly demanding physical activities.

Let’s say for instance, when an NBA player runs across the field dribbling the basketball, he doesn’t even think about the dribbling process. It happens 100% automatically thanks to muscle memory – his arms literally have a mind of their own while the basketball player himself has all his attention paid to passing the ball to one of his team-mates.

The heck, muscle memory is so efficient that NBA players are actually capable of shooting a three-pointer with their eyes bound! I remember watching a TV program about sports performance during which it was explained that muscle memory takes care of adjusting the basketball player’s stance and arm position so that the ball travels in a perfect trajectory to hit the basket; basically it’s become a reflex rather than action that has to be given a conscious thought every time it takes place.

Your Mouth Also Has Muscle Memory In Terms of Spoken English!

English phrases and sentences get hard-wired into your brain AND mouth, and you don’t even have to think about what you’re going to say before your mouth does all the talking – have you ever experienced the feeling?

Chances are, you’ve experienced what it feels like at least at some stage of your life; no matter how much you’re generally struggling with your English fluency you surely must have moments when your fluency hits a peak and you can speak as if you were an English speaker born!

If you believe it’s all down to what happens in your brain, you may think twice because your mouth’s muscle memory in terms of ability to produce automatic English speech can’t be ignored. Yes, there’s A LOT going on in your brain, and your fluency may get indeed severely affected by your attitude. You might be comparing your speech with others, you’re probably trying to speak too fast or you’re just being too conscious of what you’re saying.

One way or the other, you have to start regarding your mouth as a body part which has a memory on its own, and if you adopt such an attitude, you’ll have no difficulties with embracing the following concepts:

  • You have to memorize English phrases and sentences by speaking them out loud many times over so that you wire them into your mouth – just like you’d dribble a basketball till it becomes your second nature!
  • If you’re really serious about your ORAL FLUENCY, you need to get your mouth involved in every English learning related activity (loud reading, doing role-plays with yourself following listening practice etc.) because your mouth is going to retain a lot of that English content at a purely motoric level!
  • You have to work out your mouth hard – just like any other muscle, it needs to be exercised in order to grow and develop. In real terms it means speaking in English as much and as often as you possibly can

…which brings us to the last point:

If You Don’t Use It – You’ll Lose It!

This well-known fitness related adage also applies when it comes to spoken English performance and your ability to speak fluently.

Basically it boils down to this:

If you use your mouth as a foreign English speaker regularly, your spoken English fluency will improve.

If you don’t use it – your ability to speak fluently will quite naturally deteriorate over time.

It’s not much different from people’s declining ability to perform certain physical tasks if they stay inactive for a long period of time; and you also have to bear in mind that it’s not enough to keep your fluency sharp by doing a lot of passive English immersion.

You can’t keep your oral fluency going by listening and reading – no more than you could stay fit just by reading ABOUT sport and fitness.

YOU HAVE TO WORK OUT YOUR MOUTH because it’s like any other muscle in your body – full stop!

Thanks for reading,

Robby 😉

Fluency Gym Coach Program

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Thanks so much Vijay for stopping by and making the comment! Here’s a few more links for you to explore where I’m discussing the best spoken English practicing methods:

    http://englishharmony.com/write-first-then-speak/

    http://englishharmony.com/reading-aloud/

    http://englishharmony.com/recording-your-speech/

    Cheers,

    Robby 😉

  • Vijay

    Finally someone who has it the nail right on the head.It’s all about tongue movement and the only way you can get better in mastering any language is by practicing and making the tongue(muscle) as strong as possible and no matter what language you are learning,if you don’t have people around you who speak the language then make a habit of reading loud-ish enough to give you that feel of having a conversation atleast 30 minutes or 60 if you really have time and are in the initial stages of learning.

    Great article,people should get a copy of it and stick it on their walls,this is the only advice you need.

    Great stuff Robby mate,greetings from India

  • Hi Dave,

    Thanks for the comment and yes, it is possible to achieve decent pronunciation at any age – I’m a living proof of that. I started my Accent Adventure blog http://accentadventure.com/ a few years ago to prove that one can improve pronunciation drastically with enough dedication and practice, and I succeeded. As for your mouth tissues stretching and muscle adhesions cracking open – well, don’t know about that, but the bottom line is that it’s quite possible to achieve a very decent level of pronunciation even at a later stage in life.

    Cheers,

    Robby

  • Dave

    I also am a native English speaker, and aspiring to be fluent in Spanish (though I admit I probably don’t work as hard as I should…). I’d agree that it may be much more difficult to mold and rework our mouth muscles as an adult, after we’ve finished developing physically, but I’d say it’s not impossible. One aspect of my Spanish practice [that I consistently employ] is the act of reading Spanish novels out loud to myself. I can say from my experiences that when I first began this practice, my pronunciation was awful, but I at least knew how the language is supposed to sound, through classes from age 12-18. In my earlier years of Spanish learning, teachers never truly emphasized the importance of pronunciation, so I didn’t practice this enough when I was younger. Now at age 27, and having employed the read aloud strategy for ~3 years, I’ve seen dramatic improvements in my Spanish pronunciation. I must say it wasn’t easy, and I’ve spent many evenings laboring and straining my mouth, jaw, tongue, throat, and even lungs to read just a few pages of text, after which I felt completely exhausted. I’ve even heard legitimately audible cracks in my mouth as I’ve strained to pronounce properly, after which I was both relieved and elated to realize that my mouth had a wider range of motion for smoother pronunciation. [Perhaps this was muscle adhesions (scar tissue) cracking open?… I don’t even know…] As Robby’s article implies, my mouth is now much stronger and more capable of Spanish pronunciation through this oral practice, and I continue to see improvements with each session. So in sum, I’d say it’s probably significantly more difficult for an adult to obtain proper pronunciation for a second language, but it is quite possible 🙂 Best regards. And Robby, thanks for this great article!!

  • sandy222

    Wow, most recent post is 2 years ago.
    I am fluent in English (my native tongue) and also fluent (75%) in French.
    But I learned French in school at ages 5-10.
    I am told and I agree 100% that your mouth muscles form until you reach about 10.
    After that, picking up a foreign language … you can learn the entire lexicon but good luck pronouncing it.
    You’re too old!
    Your mouth muscles are not going to do it.
    Interested in thoughts?

  • Thanks for the comment and I’m really glad we’re on the same page here!

  • Sergio Luiz Araujo Silva

    Our mouth is a muscle, and each time that we make practical speaking our brain creates the needed connections, as a whole: mouth, face muscles, vocal cords and brain work together to convey your message, even reading aloud this happen. The bottom line is: You are totally right in your affirmation.

  • Well, I’ve never actually said it’s not important!

    I’ve always maintained that you can’t improve your spoken English by listening ONLY; in my opinion speaking and listening are actually inseparable 😉

    You can read more about it here: http://englishharmony.com/listening-vs-speaking/

    Cheers,

    Robby

  • Sergio

    In order to speak, we’re supposed to understand what is said, so let’s not forget the importance of listening, as well.

  • Hi Vladimir,

    And thanks a lot for your comment!

    Yes, I agree that the English language is multidimensional in terms of application, however, my experience tells me speaking comes first.

    Why?

    Simply because if you’re able to speak fluently, the rest will come easy but the same unfortunately can’t be said if you can read and write fluently – it doesn’t necessarily insure oral fluency!

    I’ve been dealing with thousands of my fellow foreigners – people just like you – who experience inability to speak fluently while being great at reading, writing, grammar & vocabulary.

    You see, the biggest problem is the following – if you spend most of your time studying the English language the traditional way, your brain will adopt what I like to call a “writing mode” thus making it very hard to speak fluently and improvise freely while communicating with others.

    Please read this article and watch the related video: http://englishharmony.com/why-cant-speak-fluently/ and you’ll understand what exactly I’m talking about.

    So to recap – I believe that speaking comes first and if you do it well, the rest will follow naturally. Sure enough, you have to read and learn how to write as well, but my conviction is that speaking, reading and writing are actually inseparable with speaking taking the top position on the priority list.

    Thanks,

    Robby

  • vladimir marshak

    Good comand of English includes many skills : reading , understanding native speakers, vocabulary , etc.Speakig is very important , but it is one of many skills.