Just Because You Have English Textbooks Doesn’t Mean You Possess That Knowledge!

By Robby

If you are new here please read this first.

Improve Spoken English

Video Transcript Below:

Hi guys, and welcome back to Robby’s English Harmony video blog or if you’re listening to this as an audio file, welcome back to English Harmony podcast.

Now, today’s subject is English books: textbooks, grammar books, reference books, collocation compilations, phrasal verb compilations, all sorts of English books, right? And you may possess dozens of them, but just because you have all those books doesn’t mean that you possess the knowledge.

And moreover, it doesn’t mean that you can actually use all that knowledge when speaking with other people in real life. Nothing could be actually further from the truth! If you believe that just by buying a new fancy book will somehow magically make you better English speaker, it’s just not working like that in real life. And here’s why.

You see, language learning is a quite unique discipline and it’s definitely something that I’ve been touching upon in my previous videos and articles on my blog. And why it’s unique? Here’s why. When you learn any other abstract humanitarian subject at school, for example history or geography or psychology – you name it – it’s all based on you acquiring information, processing the information, understanding what’s – what it is that you actually are being told, right? And being able to produce those facts in a written format, more often than not, right?

Basically you have to do tests to show your teacher or whoever could be assessing your test that you actually know the stuff, right? And it’s all passive. It’s you memorizing things, knowing what it’s all about and being able to reproduce all that knowledge in written format, sometimes orally.

Improving Your English Isn’t About Reading English Textbooks!

But you see, a language, right, English language more often than not is all about being able to speak in real life, right? Okay, in academic environment it’s a different story. Yes, you are required to write more often than not and actually read and listen most of the time and yes, that’s a big drawback of the academic system but it doesn’t mean that just because you have the books, all of a sudden you somehow are going to be able to be very good at writing and reading and understanding!

Even those aspects of your English language are not directly affected by the number of books you possess! You still have to read all that material, you have to retain it all.

So whatever you do, whether you engage in plenty of spoken English practicing or written English practicing, or you read a lot, you still have to do it, right? Just because you possess those books doesn’t mean that you know what’s in them. Yes, it’s great to have them as reference – beyond the shadow of a doubt, it’s better to have them than not, right?

Yes, It’s Handy to Have Books for Reference…

For example, you’re thinking of how this or that particular thing might be called in English and then you go to that book and you find it out. For example I have plenty of collocation compilations here, phrasal verbs and all those books that are normally structured by topics. So for example describing public events and then you go on there and you can see what are the most popular phrasal verbs used in that particular context, right?

… But If You’re Serious About Your English Improvement – You Just Have to Use Them!

But the point is, unless you actually do something with the book, unless you actually put some real work and effort into processing all that information, retaining it, be it in a passive way which is reading a lot, reading it through many times over until it sinks into your brain – but actually if you dedicate most of your time doing this kind of English learning, you’re not going to be able to produce it in a spoken fashion.

You’re not going to be able to – not necessarily, yes, some of it is going to retain in your brain and then you’re going to be able to use it when speaking, but most of it is going to be your passive vocabulary. One that you recognize but not necessarily know how to use, right?

But yeah, I was saying basically that you have to DO it, you have to process that information whether by purely reading or speaking out loud which is the best way. It’s hands down the best way of learning English vocabulary, phraseology. Basically you read, you listen and you speak. Basically you accompany any other activity with speaking.

Anyway, I hope that I made myself clear – just because you possess plenty of fancy books doesn’t mean that you’re going to be a good English speaker.

Someone Who Doesn’t Have Any Textbooks At All Can Be Much Better Than You!

I would say that someone who doesn’t have any books at all but is constantly speaking with other speakers and is constantly doing some spoken English practice, just like I do now, that person is going to be far superior in the spoken English department than someone who has plenty of books and textbooks and whatnot but doesn’t put them in practice.

Basically doesn’t use them to speak, to get out there and use the English language. And that’s actually the – pretty much the only purpose of any language, right? Be out there and speak with people, use the language in real life – as opposed to having the language contained within the books sitting on the bookshelf and gathering dust.

And speaking of my books, I’ve got plenty just like I told you. There was this English phrasal verb compilation and this is, for example, “English Conversations”, plenty of conversational English – idioms, idiomatic expressions which is what my English Harmony blog is all about, right? Professional English for example, this is medicine, this is specific to medicine.

You see, I had a professor of radiology as one of my Fluency Star students and I acquired this particular book to help me prepare for chat sessions with that particular student. So needless to say, I’ve got plenty of books but it doesn’t mean that I’m proficient whenever it comes to discussing those specific subjects contained within those books, right? I actually use them as tools of reference. Whenever I need something specific, I go onto them and find what I need and that’s the purpose of my books.

Other than that, I’m relying on my constant and consistent spoken English practice which I’m doing religiously on a daily basis. And that’s what keeps my fluency improving all the time.

Anyway, I’m quite sure that you’ve got plenty of other things to do, other than listening to me, so thanks for watching this video my friends, and let me know what’s the story with you and English books.

Let Me Know Your Story!

Have you got plenty of them? How are you using them? Have you at some stage in your life, have you had the wrong mindset of buying plenty of books and then you kind of consoled yourself, you comforted yourself in the fact that at least you have the books and even though you weren’t able to speak quite well, at least you had the books, therefore somehow proving to yourself and everyone else that you’re a good English student, right? You’re serious about your English improvement because you’ve got all these books, right?

And as a matter of fact I just thought of something similar that happens to a lot of people. In terms of fitness, right? So many people acquire loads of gym equipment, home gym equipment such as workout benches, free weights, dumbbells and whatnot, treadmills even and after a few weeks it all starts gathering dust in a shed or in a spare room in the house or up in the attic.

It’s typical. I would say that 90% of people who have ever purchased any workout equipment, don’t actually use it. Same goes with English books, buying a book that you would read. There’s plenty of books up there… So this is the one I’m trying to read right now, “The Infinite Sea”. But to tell you the truth guys, I’m not finding much time lately, so I don’t know what’s wrong with my reading routine. I’d been reading loads in the previous years but lately, during that last half year or so I’ve practically stopped reading.

But anyway, if you read a fiction book, that’s different. You read it for enjoyment and that’s actually my friends, one of the points that I would like to make. And read this article where I’m talking about why, for example, reading a newspaper is a hundred times better than reading a grammar book, right?

And the same goes with fiction. English fiction is something that makes you enjoy the language and you will quite naturally be forced into looking up new words and it will all be acquired contextually. And you will achieve reading fluency much faster than you ever thought it was possible. And here is an article you may want to read if you actually want to do that. If you’ve been wondering how to acquire reading fluency, this is the article you should read. But the point is, if you’re reading fiction, that’s done for enjoyment and that’s for real. That’s what you do using the English language as a medium. You read something that you enjoy!

But if you just buy a textbook, thinking – I mean that wishful thinking mindset that one day I will start doing something with that textbook… And more often than not, you will just keep putting it off till a few years later on, you will actually see that book somewhere knocking around and you will be wondering “Wow, I didn’t even know that I had that book in first place,” right?

So that’s the thing. If you buy a textbook, put it to practice! Do something practical with it. Be it do those exercises in the book or do some spoken English practice just like I’ve been telling you in almost every video, right? Do something practical with it. But don’t fall for the trap of believing that once you possessed the book, then that’s it, you don’t have to do anything with it. Just because you have it, it somehow makes you a better person, a better English speaker, right?

It’s not the case my friends!

So let me know what you think about it! Let me and let others know about your own experiences in terms of English textbooks or grammar books or reference books.

And I’ll chat you soon again my friends, bye bye!


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

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

English Harmony System
  • No problem, it was my pleasure! 😉

  • sac chi

    very well done Robby…

  • Hi Sachin,

    Here’s the video I recorded https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WqQ7ZEs2gI
    Thanks for the comment! 😉

  • Now that’s a good one!!! I’ll definitely make a video about it, hopefully I’ll post it tonight!!!! 😉

  • sac chi

    Robby in my school/ college days I was hopeless in my language skills,my native language, 2nd language (Hindi) and English… all of them.

    I had flunk in last two languages 2-3 times and could barely manage to cross 40% in my native language (35% was passing).

    During that time I was told to read Editorial of English news paper and mark difficult words from it, practice it and you will be fluent in English…:=O

    I did that religiously for a long period of time, hoping that at some point God will see may efforts and will have mercy on me and turn on the language button which was in off mode since birth.
    Honestly I was waiting for miracle to happen but nothing happened for long time…:'(

    I had a big file of those editorials and word power. I never heard those words in my daily life….and finally few years ago I burned those files to ashes… 😀

  • Hi Sexy,

    And I have to say I’m really glad you’re addicted to my blog – it’s a good addiction to have for sure! 😉 Thousands upon thousands of people have had the same experiences like you and me, and many of them would spend long hours reading my older articles and watching videos which is totally understandable provided how little similar information is out there. I mean – most English learning stuff is just grammar oriented etc., but there aren’t that many people speaking about their struggling with fluency and ways to overcome it.

    Speaking of spoken self-practice – yes, there is a certain stigma attached to it and I certainly wouldn’t do it when others could possibly catch me doing it because it would be embarrassing. But I would use any private moment I have to speak out loud in English and I’m really glad you don’t buy into the whole “forbidden by Islam” thing – so keep doing as much self-practice as you can because it’s the NUMBER ONE thing that has improved my own fluency, no kidding! 😉
    Now, the sentence where you weren’t sure whether to use “despite” or “instead” would sound much better if worded this way: “I love your feedback but at the same time I know you have many things to do.” And guess what? I actually love providing my feedback so keep your comments coming and chat to you soon again!
    I’m glad to have you as my fan (and when I say that I am glad I mean it!) so stick around for more cool articles and videos to come!

  • sexy

    Here I go again. Your blog make me an addict now. In this blog I can say what ever I want to say without feeling humiliated or embarrassed. Far away to go, I will take my time to read your articles from the start. How to improving my grammar, how to use present, past, how to use s and so on. LOL because I learned all that’s thing since I was in preschool.

    I want to share my experience about ‘speaking to yourself’ article. This morning someone with the curiosity look and hesitate when I ‘speaking to myself’ while I read your article here. (LOL in my heart). And that’s the one reason why a person (more over as a muslim) shouldn’t ‘talk to yourself’ because people don’t know the difference between you are ‘speaking to yourself’ to improving your English or they might think you are crazy. (lol).

    I have a lot of experiences almost every single article you had post here. Talk about book, I’m the book collector too. I spend my money for non fiction books. Something like a true story about human experience, fashion, plants, animals such as cats (and pug, fish, goat, turtles and so on). You know what? I love my book’s collection, I read them constantly. I had bought a few books with the title ‘how to play a guitar?’ ten years ago instead I don’t have any guitar. Not to mention ‘how to sewing’ instead I don’t have any sewing machines an so on. LOL.

    Despite (should I use instead?) I love every feedback you gave I know that you have many things to do. Same here with me. My respect for you to have this blog that’s I want to have my own since ever to share with others about what I love. So take your time to reply if you wish and just ignore it if you don’t want to (if a woman say no its mean yes. LOL). Hope your life blessing. Peace. Thanks.

  • Hi Rajeev,

    And thanks for the positive feedback, it’s really appreciated! 😉

    First things first – despite the fact you’ve been told about improving your grammar skills, you don’t have to focus on grammar exclusively; instead I strongly suggest acquired natural speech patterns that include all the necessary grammar in them. Please read this article where I’ve elaborated on this topic: http://englishharmony.com/speak-fluently-no-grammar/
    Speaking of interview preparation – the word PREPARATION is the key. If you jump into an interview head first without having a clear idea of what exactly you’re going to say, you’ll always experience the same issues. All you’ve got to do is some spoken self-practice by speaking your answers out loud that way wiring your mouth to say what you actually want to say.
    Here’s a few links for useful phrases and speech techniques used during job interviews: http://englishharmony.com/job-seeking/
    Also, I warmly suggest you to check out this article where I’ve listed plenty of sentence starters; they’re great to get your speech going: http://englishharmony.com/sentence-starters/
    Any more questions – let me know!

  • Rajeev Kumar

    Hi Robby,

    You are absolutely doing a great job by sharing your experience and knowledge with others!

    I have been reading your articles for many days to improve my language skills. I am preparing for interviews and getting failed to express myself in front of interviewers. I have so many thoughts in my mind but I can’t express them nicely even if I try to do it alone. Please give me some tips to improve sentence construction.

    My weakness is that I go more into details when I say something. And also, I am been given feedback to improve my grammar.


  • I think you’re correct in saying that back in the day fluency issue was a rare occurrence – the way I see it, languages would have been mostly acquired by people like travelers, merchants and interpreters – basically, people who would have used them in order to COMMUNICATE.
    And you know who made a total mess of the whole language learning thing? Monks and scholars. You see, long ago before the invention of the printing press, books were hand-written mostly in places such as monasteries etc., and over the centuries the concepts of learning, acquiring knowledge, writing and reading became to intertwined that it’s still deeply rooted in the academic system.
    Foreign languages are taught following pretty much the same principles monks would have been using when learning Latin – by writing and re-writing religious scripts and totally ignoring the most important aspect of the language – to serve as means of ORAL COMMUNICATION.
    By the way – it’s not something I would have come up with; I read it somewhere but I can’t remember where….
    Chat soon!

  • Juhapekka

    Yes. I’m not going anywhere because I still have a lot to learn. But anyway, it’s nice to be here again.

    It really seems that you don’t have practically any kind of time to write articles about IELTS and Cambridge exams with your current schedule since it takes quite a lot of time to familiarize yourself with them and to do all the background study.

    I definitely agree with you, Robby, that effort is always an essential element in acquiring relevant knowledge and it hasn’t changed since ancient times. We just tend to become lazier when technology around us develops, but again, there is nothing new under the sun: I remember reading that someone once said thousands years ago that the invention of paper (or papyrus which was used before paper was invented if I’m not mistaken) will make people’s memory worse and lazier because you can write things down and there is no need to remember things anymore. Maybe he was from Ancient Greece, maybe Hippocrates. I’m not really sure. I tried to google it but without success.

    One thing also came to my mind. It’s actually in the Scientific American article I linked. Namely, the invention of paper and then much later printing and finally the Internet have gradually made us to rely on written sources more and more in contrast to times in the past when knowledge and new languages were always acquired orally through conversations. Maybe English fluency issues were rare and even unknown but I’m not sure. Probably fluency issues still existed because of translation issues. What do you think, Robby?

  • Hello Jukapekka,

    It’s so nice to have you back – I was starting to worry you’ve abandoned my blog for good! 😉

    If you ask me, the problem with having access to information vs possessing the knowledge hasn’t really changed with the onset of the digital era. Yes, the Internet has made it so much more obvious, but I believe it’s always existed. Books have been around for hundreds of years, so in my opinion the bottom line is – no matter what pool of information you have access to – be it the Net or your bookshelf – at the end of the day you have to make EFFORT in order to actually acquire relevant knowledge.

    Speaking of more IELTS and Cambridge exam related info – I really hate to say this but I simply don’t have time for it. I know it’s a lousy excuse, but the harsh reality is that I barely have any time to record a few videos for the blog let alone do something more. This month, for example, I’ve only published 4 blog posts which just goes to show the true extent of the issue.

    Here’s my typical daily schedule:

    * 6:00 AM – getting up, taking a shower, having breakfast, walking the dog, driving my wife to work.

    * 7:00 AM – heading off to the college

    * 8:30 AM – 15:45 PM – studying at the college

    * 17:00 PM – arriving at home, having dinner, responding to e-mail.

    * 18:00 PM – having chat sessions with my Fluency Star students.

    * 20:00 PM – 5km run

    * 21:00 PM – 00:00 – preparing chat session worksheets for the Fluency Star students.
    As you can clearly see, there’s very little time for me to do anything apart from dealing with my Fluency Star students so that’s the real reason why I can’t dedicate more time to the blog!…
    The plan is not to take any new students on this autumn so that I can dedicate more time to the blog, or maybe I’ll just have 1 student at any given time, I’ll see how it goes. But one thing I can say for sure – I hate the current situation and I was definitely more content and happy when I could spend more time writing blog posts and recording videos!
    Hope you’re going to stick around Juhapekka! 😉

  • Juhapekka

    Hi Robby,

    The point of your video actually goes without saying but it’s still very good reminder for us because we have a tendency to wait the perfect resource that would make our learning completely easy and effortless but it seems that learning is at least sometimes very hard and it requires a lot of time and effort. I also make similar mistakes in my learning such as finding out what are the best books or resources to learn and improve my language skills or any other discipline for that matter and then just waiting when I really have enough time to go them through carefully and really thoughtfully and deeply but more often than not I have just found out that I never have that much time. Or then I make a different kind of mistake: I grab a book that is very comprehensive and I start to go through it slowly and very thoroughly but I feel that it’s too exhausting and that’s why I just quit.

    It’s also a different story when I have managed to read a book and I really feel that I have understood everything and I was able to process all that information and to imagine vividly what has happened in a book but when I try to produce the reasonable and relevant amount of the content by myself, I feel that I haven’t made much significant progress when it comes to speaking and writing part and it’s such a big disappointment. Whenever I have that issue, I remember your tip in the past by speaking out loud while thinking or thinking while speaking out loud (I wonder what is the difference between them?) and that’s why I make much more progress. Of course, I can’t do that with the entire book but I just take a short piece of text that is important for me to produce by myself.

    Some time ago I read an interesting article that is relevant for this topic. I don’t remember where the exact same article can be found but you can find similar articles with a quick google search by using search words like “is Google ruining our memory”, “Google affects our memory”, “how Google is changing your brain” etc. Those articles may be long but their point is very simple: People’s attention span and long-term memory are worse than ever (especially for younger generations) but still they feel they know more than any generation ever before but in reality they may know ever less!!? Sounds weird but according to this long article http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-internet-has-become-the-external-hard-drive-for-our-memories/ , for example, our mind may think that any external information resources like google, internet or our handy reference books are part of our memory and we feel as if we would really possess all that knowledge. It’s very relevant for us because we can create excellent English texts by performing a google search or using our handy reference books and that may trigger us to think that our English is better than it really is. I don’t think there’s anything bad in Google or in other external resources but when I do a google search to find out a correct collocation for this or that particular situation, I try to memorize those collocations if I think they are worth of memorizing or then I just try to write or speak without any external resources.

    By the way, when you plan to publish your next article about English tests like IELTS and Cambridge exams or have I missed something? Your article about TOEFL was really good and it would be nice to compare different English tests to each other.

  • Metin, there was no reason for you to delete the question! I merely asked you what exactly you mean by saying “podcast” – especially considering I actually do have a podcast which anyone can listen for free. I didn’t mean to scare you off with my question!

  • Metin Yüce

    I guess, your system included mp3, and pdf. Power english system included mp3 and pdf too. therefore I say podcast system. what’s wrong ?
    I have not found your example free lessons with pdf in your website..
    If I wrote something wrong sorry about that. My written english very bad sorry Rob.

  • Hi Metin,
    Before I answer your question, can I ask you to specify one thing – what exactly do you mean when saying “podcast”? I have a feeling what you mean by that is the actual English Harmony System, am I correct in saying that?

  • Metin Yüce

    Hello, first thank you for everthing.

    What is different between english harmony and power english and deep english ?

    Someone say that, your podcast advanced.

    I understand power english at least pdf. I think undestand with pdf enough for me. because I’m used to it quickly with listening traning with pdf..then only listening.
    So power english suitable for me. but I have doubts about the content.

    Is there example one full podcast with pdf ? your, sample lessons.

    I trust you.

    When I finish this series, I undestand at least %90 daily converstation, and %80 Friend tv show and radio etc ? Maybe a lot of listening must be for it. but I question very different. related content..

    Your podcast series included %90 phrase and word and phrasal verbs equal daily converstation ? how many words in tehere and how many most common? For example, if daily converstation inluded 3.000-5.000 words %90, then your podcast series includes how many this 3.000-5.000 words ?

    Did you use scientific sources ? creating this system ?

    or for what I said above, which podcast series suitable. My aim daily convestation %85-90, and %80 undestand tv show, radio etc. I not expect %95.
    And of course express myself comfortable, but not with compex sentences.

    I’m sure many people are wondering about that.

    my best compliments.