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4 Things Your English Teacher Didn’t Tell YOU!

English Harmony Author

1. First we should learn SPOKEN English and only then – to read and write

Another controversy on EnglishHarmony.com? Well, so be it!

I believe that if all foreign English speakers would have learnt spoken English first, nobody would have any English fluency issues. Once your brain is hard-wired with naturally occurring English speech patterns, you can learn to read and write and it won’t mess up your ability to produce coherent speech.

Many of us, foreign English speakers though, have difficulties speaking fluently because we speak as if we were writing – in a slow, controlled way, with a chance to go back and correct mistakes and all the time in the world to think things through. Add a bit of stress, and there you go – you can get stuck in a middle of a sentence because real life communication is not your comfortable environment you’re so familiar with; chatting with people happens spontaneously.

Remember – speaking comes first, and everything else comes after that, just like in your native language! You spoke long before you learnt to read and write, and you’re so good at speaking your language not because you spent 12 years at school. It’s because you used your language as means of communication long before your first day at school, so why should English be any different?

Just because your English teacher needs to be paid doesn’t mean you should bury all hopes of speaking fluent English between the pages of your English grammar books!

2. Every English speaker has ACTIVE and PASSIVE English vocabularies, and by studying English the traditional way you’ll neglect your active one

You can say less than you understand, and it’s completely natural. Yet thousands of foreign English speakers are driven mad by the feeling of helplessness when they get stuck while trying to replicate some other English speaker.

Whenever you struggle to say a certain thing, you don’t know what to blame because you “just can’t say it although when the other person says the very same thing, I can understand everything!”

Don’t blame your incapability of learning languages, lack of time for English learning, your genes or bad weather. You can always come up with excuses, but in this case there isn’t need for any!

The simple fact is that your active vocabulary consists of words and phrases you can comfortably use when speaking. Your passive vocabulary is made up of plenty more words and expressions, but you’re not comfortable with using them simply because you HAVEN’T used them that often. They don’t come out of your mouth naturally, and you have to strain your brain to include them in your speech.

The secret to widening your active English vocabulary is to speak as much as possible and transfer part of your passive vocabulary across, but the English teaching industry still keeps making tons of money by selling English grammar books and similar stuff. It’s great for developing your overall vocabulary and understanding skills (read – passive vocabulary), but will contribute little towards your English fluency.

3. English Grammar is a NATURAL part of the spoken language; you don’t need to learn grammar rules separately

Irregular word lists? Tables of English Tenses? Type 1, 2 and 3 Conditional Sentences with practical examples? Throw them all away!

What good is it to learn bits and pieces in order to be good at understanding WHY words are arranged and conjugated in a certain way without being able to effectively arrange and conjugate them as part of a natural, spoken English language?

If your occupation is a linguist – fair enough! Common folks, most likely, will never need to know that Future perfect form of the verb “to understand” is “I will have understood”. In real life most native English speakers have never used such an expression anyway, so why should you waste your time cramming grammar rules in your brain that have little or no practical application?

It’s more useful to focus on learning practical English grammar through speaking correct English phrases so that natural English speech patterns get hard-wired into you.

Don’t let the English teaching industry profit on you; next time you’re reaching for that advanced English grammar book on the bookstore shelf, go for English fiction instead so that at least you get exposed to natural English with all the essential grammar in it!

4. Mimicking, repetition and memorizing, and CONTEXTUAL English language processing are natural whereas direct translation and sticking words together aren’t

Remember your English classes at school? I do remember mine quite well – “…and now let’s write down today’s new English words in your copies. Take out your English – Latvian dictionaries… Robby, now say a sentence using the word “to breach”…”

This type of English learning encourages children and adult English learners and improvers to think in their native language, and speak English by sticking separate English words together following speech patterns found in their native language.

It’s wrong, but then again – the English teaching industry has to make money somehow, isn’t that right?

If mimicking native English speakers, repeating phrases over and over again, and acquiring new vocabulary through context rather than direct translation was made the cornerstones of the English learning worldwide, the industry would go bust. They wouldn’t be able to hire five teachers instead of one to deal with the class! Anything less just doesn’t cut it, so the poor English learners and improvers are forced back into the books and copies instead of real communication, and English fluency is severely neglected.

It’s not the academic approach that makes one into a fluent English speaker. It’s SPEAKING English in a natural or close to natural circumstances, full stop!

Robby

P.S. Did you know I’ve created a piece of software that replicates real-life English conversations? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

 

English Harmony System

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • No problem man, you’re 100% right to be angry! 😉

  • pishopalang@yahoo.com

    I mean I remember going to that English and sitting there and the ” open your books ” part would drive me nuts . And I was considered the smartest student back then because I took a grammar class , talk about foolishness . Speaking in retrospect I wish I had directed my energy , money and a willingness to improve my English at spoken English and reading . Thanks Robby for letting me vent .

  • Hiu00a0Abdurrahman,nnYou brought up a good example of the leaked English test – I suppose students will always go for the easiest options and actually there’s merit in what you did because everyone learned something in the process anyway.nnThe sad thing about the traditional English teaching industry is that the notion of the translation-grammar method is so deeply ingrained within the academic circles, that it would be nearly impossible to eradicate that view.nnIt’s a double edged sword – we know that the current methods aren’t effective yet if we stopped teaching English using the translation-grammar method completely, millions of foreigners wouldn’t even get to learn the Basics of the language…nn

  • Hiu00a0Abdurrahman,nnYou brought up a good example of the leaked English test – I suppose students will always go for the easiest options and actually there’s merit in what you did because everyone learned something in the process anyway.nnThe sad thing about the traditional English teaching industry is that the notion of the translation-grammar method is so deeply ingrained within the academic circles, that it would be nearly impossible to eradicate that view.nnIt’s a double edged sword – we know that the current methods aren’t effective yet if we stopped teaching English using the translation-grammar method completely, millions of foreigners wouldn’t even get to learn the Basics of the language…nn

  • Abdurrahman

    Hi Robby, nnI remember couple of years ago at high school. We had an English quiz. nI was getting my head around grammar. However, I did the quiz nand many got low mark. Luckily, the teacher was tolerant; he said,nu201cAll right, I’ll give you one more chance.u201dnnAnd here the second chance goes. Fortunately, the teacher wasn’tncareful; the 2nd test paper was leaked out. nI was from the few people who laid their hands on it. nI said to myself, u201cdude, this is awesome!u201d nnIt’s time know the teacher hands the quiz paper. The teacher is nlooking.. A student is reading the paper with the answers. nThe teacher says, “What is that paper? Give to me.” After the teacher finds out he says, u201cI am doing you a favor and how you give it back?u201d. nnAfter reading this article u2013 should I feel guilty about it?nnFor the word u201cindustryu201d, I highly agree with you for using itnin your article.nnProbably if they just didn’t teach us u2013 it would have been so muchnbetter; needless waste of time.nnWell done for unveiling teachers’ secrets!nnRegards,nn

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  • Hi David,nnI don’t recommend any TEFL books or any other kind of TEFL materials on my blog simply because my website isn’t for those learning the English language.u00a0nnI’m blogging for those who’ve already gone through the educational system just to find out they have serious issues when speaking – be it confidence related or technical (lack of natural English speech patterns) ones.nnI won’t argue that the quality of ESL materials available today is brilliant indeed, yet it’s an absolute MUST for any English learner to hard-wire all that knowledge into their brain by communicating with other English speakers.nnSpeaking of English teachers – I agree many are forward-thinking. Yet it’s impossible for a teacher to engage in one-to-one conversation with each and every student long enough to make it worthwhile, so the simple fact is that spoken English is neglected, and that’s basically the main issue I’m blogging about.nnThanks for your comment!nnRegards,nnRobby

  • David

    Hi Robby I saw one of your posts Tweeted, then this caught my eye as I’m a teacher. nnIt’s a pity you seem to have a negative view of English teachers + the whole industry. I know lots of forward-thinking teachers, and I also know a few ‘traditional’ ones, so I don’t think we can be generalised. nnAnd the industry? No, you don’t need to buy many books, but the quality of materials available to learners + teachers is breath-taking compared to what’s available to students of other languages. nneg I really wish that I could buy books on Czech phrases + collocations, with articles + native-like language, but it’s hard to find anything. nnCompare that to all the latest trends in teaching English. Among the more traditional TEFL stuff, there’s also some gold out there. nnDo you have a post where you recommend any TEFL books + materials? I saw you highlight the importance of reading novels + materials for native speakers, but is there a post on materials you recommend, say, for someone who’s B1 level?