Is Google Any Good For Improving Your Spoken English?

Yes, it is! But in this blog post I'm not going to discuss the cool Google speech recognition functionality or some similar tool (I'm probably going to look at it in one of my future blog posts though). By saying that you can use Online Search Engines to improve your spoken English I'm referring to Google, Yahoo and other Online Search Engine search suggestions - simple as that :!: Performing search on certain words and search terms allows you to find out plenty of useful information about naturally occurring English word combinations, and if you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know that I’m always emphasizing the importance of memorizing words that go together in natural spoken English - collocations, idioms, phrasal verbs. Why? Simply because it allows you to speak fluently; as you say the first word, the next ones are triggered automatically because your brain and mouth have been trained to pronounce certain words together :!: So if you’re interested in intricacies of Google, Yahoo or Bing search suggestions that allow you to learn patterns of real life English – keep reading this article and you’ll probably be in for a nice surprise on how instrumental Search Engines can be to a foreign English speaker! (more…)

Highlights of July 2011

The month of July has come to an end, so let’s look back at the most important blog posts – in case you didn't get a chance to read them all. I started the month with a blog post about changing your perspective on the way you conduct English conversations with people. If you often experience embarrassment when speaking in English with certain people in certain situations, in this article you’ll find valuable advice on how to lower your stress levels on such occasions. Of course, I can’t make miracles happen and make you into a super-confident foreign English speaker in five minutes while you’re reading the article. You have to work with yourself but what I can do through such and similar articles is – make you realize what EXACTLY you should be focusing on in order to deal with confidence and mindset issues when speaking English. Another blog post that comes highly recommended explains why I’m highlighting bits of my blog posts in red and it’s all about idiomatic expressions and collocations. This is very important stuff so if you’ve very little time, just read this blog post because it explains the essence of natural English fluency – using word combinations spoken by native English speakers! In another blog post about speaking English with hard foreign accent I’m touching the subject of foreign accent once more, only this time from another angle. Basically this article is about how you can deal with situations when you experience drops in English fluency by putting on much harder foreign accent than you normally would. Controversial? That’s just the way I am! (more…)

Moving to an English Speaking Country is Like Recovering Eyesight

Recently I watched a TV program about blind people recovering eyesight. What struck me most in the program was the fact that even if you restore a damaged optic nerve to its full capacity, the blind person isn’t necessarily going to function properly in terms of seeing the world around. IMPORTANT! -> Why I’m highlighting parts of text in RED? It appears that in order to see not only we need our eyes; our brain plays a crucial role in the process, too. And what was most shocking – if a person has been blind since birth or very early childhood, he or she may never learn how to “see” the word properly even if technically it would be possible. Human brain is simply unable to process graphical images from the outside world (read - any audiovisual information) and convert them into an adequate reflection into one’s mind IF it hasn’t been trained to do so :!: The man from the TV program had undergone surgery to recover eyesight, but getting around the town was still a tricky task. He learnt to recognize certain shapes and forms, but can you imagine what it feels like when you look down at a shadow on the sidewalk but you haven’t got a clue whether it’s a shadow cast by some object or a foot deep drop where the sidewalk ends? Your brain has been trained to recognize things from an early age and has seen millions of different shades throughout your lifetime. The man with recovered eyesight has to learn everything from scratch which makes it very, very difficult. What’s it got to do with spoken English, you’ll ask? Simple enough – if you’ve spent the biggest part of your live studying English the traditional way and then you move to an English speaking country, you’re in pretty much the same position as the man with the recovered eyesight walking around his residential estate. (more…)

Mad Stuff – Speaking With Hard Foreign Accent to Facilitate English Fluency

Why Thursdays are My BEST English Fluency Days

We all get our good and bad days. There are some days when everything seems to be acting against us, but then on other days we’re flying and we get all tasks done easily. And you know what? It’s pretty normal! Same goes with English fluency. There are days when we can speak English with such ease it seems we were born English speakers. Sometimes it’s quite the opposite – we have to make effort to verbalize our thoughts and we also tend to make more mistakes when speaking than normally. And you know what? It’s normal, too! But today’s story isn’t about the fluctuating English fluency. Today I wanted to share with you something I noticed recently at work, and to be honest with you, it didn’t just happen overnight, it’s just that all the pieces came together just now. So to cut a long story short, I noticed that I’m best at speaking English with my work colleagues on Thursdays. If you’ve known me for a while, you’ll know that I feel comfortable enough when speaking English on any day of the week, yet for some odd reason my English fluency trend would peak on Thursdays in particular. On Thursdays I’d speak absolutely effortlessly with everyone working in the office, with manufacturing department managers and of course, those working with me in the dispatch. OK, but why Thursdays? What Thursdays have got to do with one’s English fluency levels? (more…)

Top 15 Invaluable Pieces of Advice for Foreigners Settling Down in an English Speaking Country

Learn English Irregular Verbs Through Collocations, Idioms and Phrasal Verbs

When I used to cram plenty of new English vocabulary words using the wrong techniques (memorizing meaning of the word in my native language, memorizing many meanings of the same word at once), I also memorized loads of irregular English verbs. I had a list of them written down in my notepad and every now and then I’d go back to them to review the irregular verbs and make sure I knew every single one of them. Many years have passed, but I haven’t had a real need to look at the English irregular verb forms since. Do you think it’s because I’m so good at it that I remember all of them? I’m sorry to disappoint you, but it’s not the reason (to be honest with you – I remember all of them as part of my passive vocabulary; active vocabulary is a different story altogether so keep reading to find out why you don’t necessarily need to know ALL irregular verb forms...) The real reasons are of a more practical nature – when I swapped English studies for speaking English in real life, I realized that a big part of those irregular verb forms aren’t used in day-to-day conversations at all! It’s a typical 80/20 rule in action, and to put things in perspective, just think back to when you used, say, Past Participle “sewn” of the verb “to sew” when speaking with someone. Personally I’ve heard it used just ONCE over the two and a half years spent in a knitwear manufacturing company where there’s thousands of garments parts being sewn together every day! And you know what the funniest thing is? The person who said it (by the way – it was a native English speaker), didn’t use the irregular Past Participle form “sewn”. He used “sewed” instead and I remember thinking to myself “Why on Earth did I ever clog up my brain with unnecessary irregular English verb forms like “sewn” if I don’t use them at all?” Also, I realized that there’s so much more to the irregular verb forms, especially Past Participle, than I originally thought. Years ago I learnt them to use when speaking in my translated-from-my-native-language English. I would therefore focus exclusively on the literal meaning of the Past Participle; so for instance, “broken” for me would only be a word that describes a finished action of the word “to break” as in a sentence “I have broken my promise.” But what about word combinations like “broken down”, “broken dreams”, “to sound like a broken record”? All these English collocations have the word “broken” in them yet they don’t represent Perfect Tenses that English students traditionally associate the Past Participle form with :!: If you learn such collocations by heart, you’ll instinctively know when to use the word “broken”, and that’s what fluent English is all about! Of course, you have to know how to use the irregular Past Participle when forming Perfect Tenses and also Passive Voice – “my car wasn't broken by me”, for example – there’s no question about it! All I’m saying is that if you learn to use irregular verb forms as part of useful phrases rather than purely as a string of words – shrink, shrank, shrunk - your chances of using them as part of fluent English are much, much bigger. (more…)

Idiomatic Expressions: Why I’m Highlighting Some Bits of Text in Red in My Blog Posts

Here’s the short answer – they’re bits of spoken English any foreign English speaker should know to communicate effectively! They’re word combinations used by native English speakers and by using them you’re going to make your spoken English sound more natural and native-like. English collocations, phrasal verbs and sayings all fall under the broad category of these idiomatic expressions, and to put it simply – you can’t come up with these sort of sayings just by sticking the words together; you have to learn the EXACT phrase or word combination to be able to use it :!: There are also typical full English idioms among them, but I have to admit I have some reservations towards learning certain idioms like “It’s raining cats and dogs” or “pot calling the kettle black.” They are typical English idioms that you’ll find on any decent English idiom list online, yet they’re rarely heard in real life, if at all. My take on the whole English idiom thing (like it’s on spoken English in general) is the following – you don’t need to hammer loads of English idioms in your brain that you’re not going to use. You’d much better off using your potential as a foreign English speaker by learning idiomatic expressions because there’s a much bigger chance you’re going to use them in real life! How about the following ones: “for the argument’s sake”, “to jump to a conclusion”, “fit for the purpose”? These are typical idiomatic expressions that have some characteristics of full idioms, but at the same time it would be possible to derive their meaning from the words alone. Also, they don’t even need to be long phrases to fall under the category of idiomatic expressions. “On target”, “straight away”, “I’m all ears”, “big time” and similar short expressions are the ones that can make a difference between you being perceived a so-so English speaker or quite an advanced one! Not that you should care what others think of you, but still it’s nice to be capable of communicating with native English speakers like an equal, isn’t it? ;-) So to help you with learning these idiomatic expressions, I’ve been highlighting them in my blog posts in red color so that you can immediately see which bits are useful to memorize! (more…)

It Doesn’t Matter Who You Speak With – It’s All in Your HEAD!

Sometimes I don’t feel confident when speaking with native English speakers – I have an uneasy feeling that they’d judge my English skills and make the wrong assumptions. Sometimes I struggle when speaking with another foreign English speaker. I have difficulties choosing the right words if I’m not sure if he or she will understand me. As a result I may start hesitating and making silly mistakes and the other person may sound even more fluent than me! When I speak with a foreigner with a similar English fluency level, I may try to prove I’m a better English speaker. Eventually I also risk losing the natural flow of the language because of the excitement such a challenge inevitably entails. As you can see – you can’t win here, no matter who I speak with there’s a chance my English fluency is going to deteriorate… So the question is – how to deal with this? :mad: The answer, as often is the case, lies in the head ;-) (more…)

Focus on What You CAN Say in English Instead of What You CAN’T!

You’ve Gotta Be Ignorant to Be a Fluent English Speaker!

If I had to name one thing responsible for my spoken English confidence, it would be IGNORANCE. Are you surprised? Don’t be, because I don’t mean it in a bad way. I’m not ignoring other people when they speak to me; I rather force myself to ignore any negative emotions emerging during a conversation with someone in English! Let’s say for the argument’s sake, I’m having a conversation with my bank’s local branch manager regarding a loan that I’d like to take out. We’re shaking hands; I’m sitting down and starting explaining the purpose of my visit. Then all of a sudden, I make a small mistake by calling the loan a “credit” – which is fairly understandable given the fact that loans are called “credits” in my native language which is Latvian. Well, I’ve maintained countless times on my videos that you have to completely eliminate any translation process between your native language and English, and personally I have achieved it. Still, under slightly stressful circumstances your mind may start playing tricks on you, and I have to confess that I’m not perfect either; no-one is for that matter! So I’m saying – “I’d like to apply for a loan.” Then the manager asks me – “Have you considered the amount you’d like to borrow?” to which I reply “I recently paid off the previous credit, and I’d like to have another one of the same amount.” But even as I speak the words “previous credit”, I realize I mixed up those two words – “a credit” and “a loan”, so I immediately correct myself by saying “sorry, I mean – the previous loan.” It’s definitely OK to correct yourself during a conversation and it’s much better than allowing mistakes to slip by and risking being misunderstood. But what making such and similar mistakes can do to you is – they can make you feel very embarrassed, and I bet you know what I’m talking about, right? Embarrassment is the enemy number one of any foreign English speaker, and it’s a typical example of a negative emotion being evoked in your mind. Embarrassed, ashamed, angry, stressed out – all these are examples of negative emotions that will destroy your spoken English confidence if you allow them to take over your rational mind :mad: This is where ignorance comes into action. (more…)

Why is It Difficult to Speak with Certain People in English?

Funny English Phrases #2 – Visiting a Doctor

Hi my fellow foreign English speakers! Here’s another video of my Funny English Phrases series – judging by the positive feedback I was getting after publishing the first video about shopping you seem to like these type of funny situation videos! This video has a few useful health related phrases and phrasal verbs in it, so watch it to make sure you know the meaning of those expressions! Or else you risk getting in embarrassing situations just like the character portrayed by me in the video! And one more thing – make sure you repeat those sentences out loud. It’s crucial to imprint English speech patterns into your mouth and vocal cords and there’s no way around it. You have to speak to improve your spoken English, my friend! Take care, Robby ;-)

Importance of Letting It Go!

Today I’ll tell you about a phrase I heard the other day on the radio and which got me thinking about how foreign English speakers are sometimes perceived among the native English speaking public. So I was listening to my favourite morning radio show and as usual listeners were sending in text messages and the DJ was reading them out. Among the other messages there was one that wouldn’t make a 100% sense to a native English speaker yet it was obvious what the listener had meant by it. I don’t really remember what exactly it was, to be honest with you. I just know that it was an awkward word combination not used in real life. It is, of course, quite natural for any native speaker to spot such an odd word combination. And indeed, any of us foreign English speakers having spent long enough time among other English speakers would also notice something that doesn’t sound right. Little that the radio DJ knew about how foreigners speak, he jumped to a conclusion that the person who had texted in that particular message hadn’t got a good command of English. You think it’s not a big deal? It is, and let me tell you why. (more…)

English Harmony System’s Review

I want you to meet someone, my fellow foreign English speakers! Her name is Diana and she runs a great English learning website Helping You Learn English. Diana is an English teaching professional, and I guess that if she’s saying that my English Harmony System might just be the one thing you need to improve your English fluency, there is something to it, right? Anyway, let’s cut the rant, just watch the video above to see what Diana is saying in her review of the English Harmony System 2.0!

Taking a Break from Speaking English May Have a Positive Effect on Your Fluency!

Improve Your Spoken English by Using Spaced Repetition

Spaced repetition is a term normally associated with language learning flashcards and spaced repetition systems (SRS). I have to tell you right off the bat though that I’m not a big fan of flashcards because I’d been using the same technique when building my English vocabulary a number of years ago. In the end I realized that memorizing something that’s translated into your native language is actually going to impede your spoken English fluency :shock: No matter how controversial it may sound, language learners all over the world are becoming aware of the downsides of traditional English learning methods. Heated debates have sparked on language learning blogs about efficiency of using flashcards, for example and many language learning enthusiasts realize that a major shift in terms of language learning is happening right now. Still many language learners are oblivious to the simple fact – repeating and memorizing a phrase or a word in your target language with the corresponding translation in your native language will make it much harder to actually speak the target language :!: So that’s probably the most valuable piece of advice I can give you regarding spaced repetition and learning and improving your English – don’t create flashcards and don’t use any English learning SRS that are based on translating between two languages! But let’s stop whining about things that are wrong. Once we know that the best way to acquire new English vocabulary is to repeat and memorize words and phrases and associate them with explanations in the English language, we can move on to discussing the very nature of spaced repetition. (more…)

Don’t Be Conscious Of Your Own English Conversations!

Funny English Phrases #1 – Buying a Pair of Jeans

Hi my friends foreign English speakers! You must have noticed I’m not posting here on my blog as often as I used to, but you can rest assured that I’m not neglecting this project! I’m simply too busy editing new English Harmony lessons and working with my partner Will who creates all content for the lessons. So, while I’m working on the major English Harmony System’s update, I decided to post weekly short videos stuffed with useful everyday English phrases you can use in different situations – when shopping, visiting your doctor or even facing an interviewer in a job interview. Today’s video is dedicated to shopping. Watch it, and who knows - maybe some of those phrases will come handy the next time you’re out shopping for new clothes! Robby ;-)

How Robby Improves His Spoken English

I've been going on about improving spoken English for years and given you countless advice on how to become a better English speaker. If you're a bit tired of it all, watch this video where I'm telling about my own spoken English improving routine and what I do on a daily basis to maintain a high level of English fluency. In this video you'll find out the following things: why I still keep practicing spoken English with myself despite having a full time job in an English speaking environment; why I threw away all my English - Latvian pocket dictionaries and now I'm having a pocket phrase book; how playing a guitar helps me have real English conversations with friends and work colleagues; why I read fantasy fiction in English during my breaks at work! If you've any questions to ask in relation to this video or if you want to share your own English improving experiences - use the comments box below! Robby P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

How To Get Involved When Speaking English

In this blog post I’ll be looking at one of the most dreadful things foreign English speakers come across – making MISTAKES. You might know the feeling – you start talking to someone in English, and then all of a sudden you make the most stupid mistake! And despite being a decent English speaker, the mistakes you make may create an impression that you’re just an English learner. It’s really irritating. It’s frustrating. Making mistakes like saying “he” instead of “she” or mixing up tenses and saying “had” instead of “has” should be something that only beginners do, isn’t that right? Yet it’s something that can happen to any of us no matter how fluently we speak! I’ve discussed this phenomenon at length on my blog previously and given plenty of advice on how to deal with those moments when you feel that you just can’t speak normally. At times there’s nothing better than just jumping into an English conversation and ignoring the mistakes you’re making. If it’s bound to happen, accept it and let go of the very fear of making those mistakes! Strangely enough, on many occasions it works. Having spent a few minutes chatting and forcing yourself to draw away your focus from mistakes to the conversation itself, you alleviate the self-imposed stress and your English fluency returns to normal. If it doesn’t help, you have to resort to another powerful tactic I’ve suggested previously on a number of articles and videos – slowing your speech down. On many occasions foreign English speakers are trying to match the speed of native English speakers’ speech and it can have quite the opposite effect. You may start stumbling upon words and make terrible mistakes just because you’re rushing your speech, and slowing down and pausing to pick the best fitting word is definitely a good idea. And sometimes when you’re so overwhelmed by the inability to speak normally, the best thing you can do is just forget about English for a while! Immersion in other activities allows your mind to “restart” itself and you can return to a normal English speaking mode the next day. There is, however, one aspect of making mistakes when speaking English that I haven’t yet touched on my blog. It’s about GETTING INOLVED when speaking. (more…)

St Patrick’s Day Greetings

Speaking in Short Sentences? It’s Normal!

Are you often frustrated by the fact that despite being quite a well-spoken foreign English speaker you can’t always speak in full sentences? Are you even getting stuck in a middle of conversation because you WANT to finish a sentence but for some reason you just CAN’T? Let me tell you – you’re not alone. It’s quite normal! By the way – hadn’t you noticed that even native English speakers sometimes hesitate when they speak? When we write, we have all the time in the world to think over the word placement in a sentence. We can scribble out what we wrote and re-write it so that it sounds much better. As we write, we can formulate our thoughts precisely as we intend because we can take extra time to pick the most fitting words. And most importantly, we can compose nice, complete sentences to create an easy-to-understand message! When we speak, it’s a bit different story. Unless you’re a very eloquent foreign English speaker, your speech will be quite different from a written piece of text. Well, I've always held the opinion that the best way to write is to actually speak about the subject aloud and put it all down on paper. Still, when we speak, quite often our mind drifts away and we can’t articulate our thoughts exactly as we want. Especially – when we have to talk about something we’re not really familiar with! If it’s becoming a real issue, it has to be dealt with. But no matter what situation you find yourself in, it always helps to be aware of the fact that in real life English communication people often speak in short, often unfinished and broken sentences :!: (more…)

Retelling Stories Is a Perfect Way of Improving Your Spoken English!

Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced English Grammar? Nonsense!

Much of that stress you experience when learning and improving your English could be alleviated if there were no different English grammar complexity levels, isn’t that right? Just think about it. The moment a foreigner decides to learn or improve English, his success hugely depends on his attitude towards the process. Depending on the perceived difficulty he can either achieve that long-desired English fluency or become completely unmotivated to improve if the end goal of being a fluent English speaker seems like an epic task. I believe that ANY process – be it English learning, or learning high level chemistry isn’t difficult as far as you fully understand what’s being discussed in the particular lesson or book’s chapter OR you can replicate the results without focusing too much on the details :!: Even rocket science is easy once you know what you’re doing! ;-) I believe the same goes with English grammar. Well, first of all, I don’t think English students should focus on grammar as much as the industry requires them to do in the first place. Grammar is nothing more than bunch or rules determining how words are arranged in a sentence and you can learn it all just by speaking mimicking native English speakers because spoken English already has all NATURAL grammar in it! But if you do incorporate certain amount of English grammar studies in your English improving routine, you may become overwhelmed by its complexity. All the grammar terms ranging from very easy ones such as a verb and a noun and ending with advanced high-end grammar stuff like conditional sentences and compound sentences will make you feel that there’s so much to acquire and that you need to spend long, long years learning all that stuff. And you’re right. If you want to become an English teacher and know all ABOUT English grammar, it will be a lengthy task indeed. If, on the other hand, you want to become a fluent English speaker, your perception suddenly changes. You don’t need to divide English grammar into beginners, intermediate and advanced because it will only inhibit your progress. Do you want to see a proof that there’s no easy and difficult English grammar? All right, no problems! (more…)

Mimicking – The Best Way to Learn English Collocations!

If you read my previous blog post about English collocations, you’ll remember that a collocation is a group of two or more words that are naturally used together in written and spoken English – such as “a tough decision”, “renewable energy”, “foreseeable future” or “to draw a comparison between.” Many collocations are strong, which means that you if you replace one of the words with a synonym, native English speakers would notice that it doesn’t sound right. For instance, if you say “replenishable energy”, it would sound a bit odd because “renewable energy” has been accepted worldwide as a standard way to describe energy sources like wind, water and solar energy. Many collocations aren’t that strong. For instance if you say “a hard decision”, it sounds absolutely fine despite “a tough decision” being a standard collocation you’d find in English Grammar books. But why is it important for us, foreign English speakers? Why should we care about English collocations? The reason is simple enough. Bonds that keep words together in collocations also determine word PATTERNS in spoken and written English in general :!: We may be under impression that collocations were invented by English teachers in order to annoy students and make their studies harder. (Frankly speaking, I can partially agree with this if collocations are looked at as a separate section of English language studies instead of being used as an integral part of speaking and writing English.) In reality if we, foreigners, want to achieve English fluency we need to incorporate learning collocations in our daily English improving routine as part of acquiring new vocabulary and phraseology. You just can't ignore natural English word patterns otherwise your English will sound weird, simple as that! But don’t cram long collocation lists into your brain. Be selective! (more…)