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5 Things About Robby & The English Language You Probably Didn’t Know

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1. Sometimes I still mix up English personal pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’.

I know it may sound silly, and some of you might think – “Hold on, there’s something dodgy going on… How come somebody who speaks fluent English can be making such simple mistakes?”

You should never judge a foreigner’s abilities as an English speaker by the mistakes they’re making regardless of how simple they are!

The fact that I can speak fluently doesn’t mean I’ll be getting the basics right 100% of the time.

Especially considering times when I’m a little bit stressed out and I have to make my point very quickly. That’s when I may make a few mistakes and referring to a female person with the personal pronoun ‘he’ is one of them!

By the way, I have an explanation for that.

Back in the school days when I studied English from textbooks, the two pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’ always came together in the personal pronoun lists, and a wrong vocabulary association was created during all those thousands of times I had to repeat the two pronouns one after another:

I see

You see

He, she sees

Apparently the habit of pronouncing the two words ‘he’ and ‘she’ together is ingrained so deep into my subconscious mind that even after all these years spent living in an English speaking country it’s still strong enough to cause me make such a simple mistake every now and then!

2. I choose to speak with my native accent just because it’s more convenient for me!

It’s been pointed out to me on countless occasions that I speak with a noticeable East-European accent.

Could I make effort to improve it and sound more like a native speaker?

Sure.

Am I bothered by it enough to take action and make effort to sound more like a British, American or Irish English speaker?

Not really!

You see – my pronunciation isn’t that bad. I don’t roll my “r’s”, I don’t pronounce “w’s” as “v’s” and my “d’s” and “t’s” are much softer than they’re pronounced in my native Latvian. In other words, when I speak in English, I DO CHANGE the way I sound.

Speaking with a certain English accent, however, requires an awful lot more work than just that, and I simply haven’t had enough dedication, motivation and practical need to do it.

Moreover, I’ve noticed that I perform best in terms of my spoken English fluency when I don’t focus on my pronunciation, and that’s why you can hear me speaking with a certain dose of Latvian accent in my videos.

3. My second language is Russian – not English!

As a child I grew up in a bi-lingual society and I don’t even remember learning the Russian language. I’ve been able to speak it ever since I can remember myself, and it was out of a practical necessity. I had Russian speaking friends and the whole local society operated on a bi-lingual basis so I never really had an option not to learn Russian.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, the point is – when it comes to learning foreign languages, practical necessity is the driving force behind 99% of folks who learn a language to fluency!

Yes, there are language learning enthusiasts who learn languages because of other reasons, but for the most part practical necessity dictates how good you will be at a certain language.

My spoken Russian at the moment, for example, is much worse than my English because I use the English language all the time yet I haven’t used Russian much ever since I moved to Ireland 10 years ago.

My Russian comprehension is still very good and I can understand everything I’m being told. When it comes to expressing my thoughts and opinion, however, it doesn’t stand close to my abilities as an English speaker.

So while Russian is my second language in terms of when I acquired it, English is my actual second language.

Well, considering how much I speak in English on a daily basis, one could argue that it’s my first language de facto!

8 hours a day speaking in English at work plus all the self-practice sessions definitely results in more English being used be me than my native Latvian. And just as well, because I know for a fact that I’ll never forget my native language but I need every opportunity to practice my spoken English in order to achieve a complete fluency of the language.

4. I have two kids who speak English at a native-level and often speak English at home with each other.

When I moved to Ireland my kids were just four years of age which means they were thrown into a pre-school class alongside Irish kids and they had to pick up English the natural way – by communication.

By the time they had to start the first class, they spoke fluent English and were able to communicate using the English language as if it were their first language. And it’s hardly surprising considering they were spending half of their time immersed in an English speaking environment AND they didn’t learn the English language through their native language.

To be honest with you, it came as a shock to me seeing my daughters speak more fluently than I could at the time.

You see, while they spent most of their time SPEAKING in English, I was focusing on vocabulary acquisition, grammar studies and reading. No wonder my fluency improving attempts failed and my daughters quickly surpassed my ability to speak fluent English ❗

Now they’re 15, and they speak English just like their Irish counterparts. And when they come home from school, quite often they keep speaking in English with each other just because it’s become second nature for them!

5. I can’t remember when I opened my English – Latvian dictionary for the last time…

I have a number of huge English – Latvian and Latvian – English dictionaries sitting on my book shelf gathering dust. And I mean it literally – because I haven’t touched them in years, believe it or not!

Why?

It’s quite simple – ever since I realized the importance of acquiring new English vocabulary THROUGH ENGLISH (as opposed to memorizing translations in my native language), I stopped turning to my native language for help.

One of the key factors determining one’s success as an English learner is the ability to separate the English language from one’s native language. If you can think solely in English terms, your chances of verbalizing your thoughts in English are much better than if you keep referring to your mother tongue and then translate it into English.

Now I only use online English dictionaries and if I come across new vocabulary or idiomatic expressions, I look up their meanings explained in English.

I’m a big book lover, and a part of me feels a bit saddened when seeing all my dictionaries lying on a bookshelf without any use…

Yet I value my English fluency and confidence much more, so I don’t think I’ll ever open those comprehensive compilations ever again.

Robby

P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

 

English Harmony System

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • The Internet is an amazing thing indeed, and it’s just cool how we can interact despite thousands of miles separate us. 

    I’m glad you find inspiration in my blog and it’s a great feeling to know I can help other fellow foreigners with their fluency and confidence issues.

    So, let’s begin – lesson #1: Never apologize for your mistakes! 🙂 You’ve got to adopt a successful mindset and feeling sorry for what you might have said and written wrong is not going to help you with that. Don’t even think about what you might say wrong, just say it and let your ‘gut feeling’ guide you. That way you’ll improve your English much faster, believe me! 😉

    Chat soon,

    Robby

  • Anastacia

    Sorry for my mistakes!!! But I am really exciting to get asnwer from u!!! :)))))))))) Internet is an amazing thing!!! Actually I live in Kazakhstan!!! :))))))))

  • Anastacia

    HHEHEH THAT IS COOL to have a secret language!!! Actually I have never thought U would reply to me. But it is a nice feeling. Firstly, when I found this website, I had an idea that this guy wrote great articles!!! I thought u are a native speaker. but then I realized that English is not ur native language!!! And it gave (is giving) me motivation to study English harder!!! ROBBY thank u for inspiration!!! :))))))))))))))))))

  • I won’t reply in Russian because writing is killing me, but yes, I speak Russian (although it’s a bit rusty now) and that’s my second language. 

    I mean – for me it’s no big deal because I’ve always know it, but it comes handy sometimes when we have to discuss something in secret with my wife so that kids wouldn’t understand it! 😉

  • Anastacia

    Так ты еще и хорошо русским владеешь!!! Для меня это было открытием!!! Приятно когда могут люди удивлять!!!

  • Anastacia

    КАК говорится русские везде!!! хехехех

  • Sure, referring to your students’ native language every now and then isn’t going to hamper their fluency.

    As you rightly pointed out, it’s easier to raise awareness of certain mistakes if you know why they happen (direct translation from their native languages).

    However, I think it only highlights the fact that direct translation is unnecessary at best, and it’s best to learn English without having the “how-do-we-say-it-in-(language)” mindset.

    Thanks for the comment! 😉

  • I guess it comes down to what works for you.

    As a teacher I need to remember that people have paid for a session in English, and as a result, keep everything in English.

    However on occasion I use my knowledge of their language, or ask them
    about their language, if they make mistakes which appear to come from
    their native tongue.

    If we’re looking at error correction, I might mention the phrase in
    Czech or French that they mis-translated and then focus on what we say
    in English. Doing it this way has lately got a few ‘ah-ha’ moments in class. 

    Eg my elementary student from France said ‘take lunch’ the other day,
    and I said that in English we don’t use the verb ‘take’ but another one.

    When it comes to my own learning, I got to pick up French without too much translation. Very little in fact. 

    With Czech, I’m picking up phrases without needing to translate, but I do write down single words and their English equivalents. 

    The thing is, often times I ask my Czech teacher “Oh how do you say x in Czech” and there in fact isn’t a direct translation. Or she may just say “we don’t really say that in Czech.” 

    Re: bilingual dictionaries, I don’t use them at all in class with my students, but if I’m at home writing an email or texting someone, I might take a look to make sure I’ve written the right word if it’s important. eg as a result, recently I found out I was writing the word ‘wash’ instead of ‘have’ (mit v. myt)!

  • I’m a strong opponent of using bi-lingual dictionaries mainly for the following reasons:

    1. They create unnecessary associations between English vocabulary and the student’s native language;

    2. They hamper the ability to think in English;

    3. They are a part of the same old grammar-translation language learning process.

    Yes, beginner learners need to use them to get a good grip on the language basics.

    There comes a point in time though, when all new concepts can be explained using other English words, and it definitely facilitates the ability to speak spontaneously. 

    Basically I believe translation should be replaced by explanation in English only at an early stage.

    English and the native language should exist as two separate entities in one’s mind and it’s not necessary at all to know what certain English words mean in one’s native language.

    Personally I wouldn’t know direct Latvian translation of loads of English words; I’ve learnt words such as ‘exorbitant’, ‘glamour’, ‘alluring’ and plenty of others 100% contextually.

    And just as well because years ago when I used to cram vocabulary lists with the respective Latvian meanings I couldn’t get rid of intrusive thoughts in Latvian while speaking in English!!!

  • Francisco Javier

    Not using a bilingual dictionary can be counterproductive if you are a teacher.

    Being competent in two languages will help your students learn English better. Sometimes, the occasional translation will focus their attention on the task at hand before they lose interest and concentration because they cannot follow what you say.

    Translation usually helps students, not hinder their progress.

  • Babdina

    Hi Robby,

    These 5 honest things have told me a lot! 🙂

  • Thanks for the comment!

    Yes, practical necessity plays a big role in developing our language skills fast and I’ve witnessed quite a few similar fast English improving cases while living in Ireland. 

    One Polish girl in my job, for instance, improved her English within a very short space of time thanks to the fact that she was moved from the production line to another department where she found herself among native English speakers. It was amazing to witness her progress and to realize that it all can be attributed to being immersed in an English speaking environment during practical everyday situations!

    Speaking of the mistakes me and you still experience sometimes when speaking our second languages – well, it just happens! I’m not sure I’ll be able to eradicate them completely at some point in time, but then again I don’t care about it too much. I’d rather let things take their own course and enjoy spending my days in an English speaking environment 😉

  • This was interesting, Robby!

    I completely agree with you about the practical necessity. For example, I have a couple of students whose jobs have required them to either move to the U.S. or have a boss from the U.S. within 4-6 months. 

    These students have REALLY dedicated themselves, and one of them (who was only pre-intermediate, with serious pronunciation problems), after making the transition to having an English-speaking boss, showed a big improvement in his English while working under the guy despite skipping a month of official classes with me.

    My second-language confession is that I sometimes mix up the masculine and feminine forms in Portuguese, usually when I’m too tired to think straight. I find I always mess up my Portuguese when speaking with a Brazilian who I know also speaks fluent English – must be some weird mental block!

  • Tвоя интуиция тебя нe подвелa! 😉

  • Ты знаешь, я давно размышлял о том, знаешь ли Ñ‚Ñ‹ Русский или нет. Всё-таки знаешь 😉