There are many reasons why foreigners start learning English. For me it was being fascinated with everything that had to do with America when I was a child. For others it’s necessity when they move to an English speaking country.
And many are forced into learning English at school yet at the same time they acknowledge the fact that English is spoken worldwide and nowadays it’s one of the basic requirements if you’re willing to attain good education and advance in your career.
Yet all English students would agree on one thing – English fluency is what one strives for when learning English. In order to be able to communicate with work colleagues and customers one has to be fluent in English otherwise it just won’t work!
But now tell me – has English fluency been defined for you by your English teacher or someone else? The chances are that you’ve been lead to believe that standard English tests and grades adequately reflect your English fluency. But here’s the drawback – real life English fluency has little to do with your ability to complete English language tests and get high scores in them…
Here’s how I would define English fluency!
You have fluent English IF you can fully understand the other party and communicate easily by conveying your message clearly using your active vocabulary. Please pay attention to the last bit – active vocabulary.
This is the slipping stone for many foreign English speakers. Basically they’re trying to use passive vocabulary when speaking English – English words they recognize BUT aren’t comfortable using in conversations.
I think this is a very important point and it’s not stressed enough.
I bet you’ve been wandering at some stage in your life why your English understanding is better than spoken language. You’ve probably had a conversation with someone regarding this topic but have you ever analyzed in depth why it happens?
Why you understand your native English chat partner completely but when trying to respond you feel restricted in your capability to form a sentence? The answer is simple – it’s all about the active and passive vocabulary.
Majority of foreign English speakers have devoted most of their studies to reading and doing grammar exercises. Most of vocabulary built that way becomes passive – which means you can recognize the word or phrase, but you’re simply not using it to communicate. When you’re doing an English language test you’re showing your ability to understand and produce English in a written form. But when you have to actually speak, it’s a completely different story. You have to get by using your active vocabulary – the one that you’ve been using when practicing English speech.
Many foreigners get very confused when speaking as they try to use both active and passive vocabulary and form English sentences as they would do it on a piece of paper. They kind of feel that they’re required to speak very professionally and smart and they automatically assume that the best way to achieve it is to bring up words from their passive vocabulary and use them.
It is possible at some degree, but the resulting language is far from being fluent.
To speak fluent English you must use your active vocabulary which means you will use much simpler words a lot and you’ll have to explain a few things in bigger detail which doesn’t mean at all you won’t be fluent by doing it!
An example – you’re talking to a customer on the phone and he asks you when he can expect the delivery to arrive.
Here’s how you’d respond using e-mail – “Dear Mr. Jones, due to an unexpected delay our courier was unfortunately unable to complete the delivery last night. I contacted them this morning and please be assured you’ll receive your goods by 1 PM today.”
When you’re on the phone, you can find that you can’t actually form the speech the same way you’d write. And here’s where many foreigners make a crucial mistake – they try to kind of write English in the head and then speak it out which doesn’t make a fluent English speech at all.
It’s easy to speak fluently if you just stick to your active English vocabulary and even if your response to the customer’s request is as simple as:Â “Dear Mr. Jones, I’m sorry for the delay, but our courier couldn’t deliver your goods yesterday. You’ll receive them today at 1 PM.”
Simple and natural speech sounds more fluent than broken and hesitating one when you’re trying to use complicated phrases and words from your passive vocabulary. So you have to stop using English words and phrases that you don’t use that often and therefore they wouldn’t be the ones making up the main body of your active vocabulary.
Of course, over time you’ll add more and more words to your active vocabulary and you’ll be able to use them when speaking English.
But my main point today was that what I understand with real English fluency is being able to use the vocabulary that you’re familiar with and use it WELL, rather than try sound smart by making the English sentences complicated!
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