12 Reasons Why Spoken English is Just Like Playing a Guitar

By Robby

If you are new here please read this first.

Improve Spoken English

1. You may be good at recognizing chords & songs, but you need to be able to play them yourself in order to… play them!

If I told you that watching Keith Richards perform and deliver his best guitar pieces for three months straight will make you into a decent guitar player, would you believe me?

I guess not!

Then why would you ever listen to someone who wants you to buy into the learn-English-by-listening hype? Ability to use your mouth in order to speak in English AND using your guitar to play a song aren’t so dissimilar because it all boils down to your ability to DO something rather than just RECOGNIZE something.

It’s all about PASSIVE vs ACTIVE English, music or whatever practical skill we’re looking at!

When I picked up the guitar for the first time and tried my first chord, I sucked at it big time. And it’s no wonder I was so bad at it – I simply had never tried doing it before. I had been checking out some related information previously though, and I had a general idea of how certain chords would have to be placed.

Doing it myself turned out to be a totally different story altogether, and the very same goes with using your mouth in order to speak in English. You may be able to understand other people fairly well, yet when you open your mouth it’s the same as trying your first chord on a guitar.

Remember: spoken English – just like guitar play – is a very PRACTICAL SKILL!

2. You don’t necessarily need to know music theory to play a guitar, and you don’t need to know theoretical English grammar to speak!

To be totally honest with you, I don’t know any music theory related information. I can hardly remember the letters describing those few chords I’m able to play on my guitar (G, D, E and so on), let alone some more advanced knowledge.

And also the fact that I don’t have a good ear for music doesn’t help.

It doesn’t prevent me from playing some popular songs though, and I’m not concerned about my lack of theoretical knowledge whatsoever!

Why would I even want to spend any time on it anyway, if all I’ll ever do with my guitar is just play songs for my own enjoyment? I don’t aspire to become a professional musician or something, and even if that were the case – have you not heard of some renowned singers such as Luciano Pavarotti not being able to read notes?

Theory is one thing, but your ability to put on a show is quite another. Sure enough, the two can go together, but absence of the former oftentimes has no bearing on the latter.

Same concept applies on your spoken English performance.

You may be well versed in Grammar terms AND able to speak fluently. Theoretical Grammar knowledge, however, isn’t a pre-requisite for fluency no more than ability to read notes is necessary to play a guitar.

All I’m doing when learning a new song is just mimicking other people on YouTube, and I also do the very same when improving my spoken English skills. I mimic other people’s speech and I leave grammar theory to English teachers.

3. You can spend 10 years of your life honing your guitar play to perfection, or you can start playing different songs right off the bat – same goes with your English speaking ability!

When I picked up my guitar for the first time, I was facing two options.

I could start learning the very basics of guitar play and spend a lot of time on perfecting my chords and strumming technique before I even attempted to learn any songs.

The other option was much simpler – I could just choose a simple song, and learn how to play it!

It was a no brainer.

I went for the second option and never looked back!

When a foreign English speaker works on his or her English, they generally face the same dilemma. It’s all about choosing between a fast and effective acquisition of colloquial speech patterns and a long road to fluency by a way of learning profound vocabulary, grammar and what not.

I think it’s also a no-brainer.

Why would you spend long years aiming for perfection, if you can reach conversational English fluency first and then widen your vocabulary and enrich your means of expression throughout the rest of your life?

4. To play a guitar, you need to know chords (English idiomatic expressions and phrases), you won’t get far by picking strings (individual words)!

One of the biggest problems foreign English speakers experience is the ‘writing-mode’ of their mind whereby they’re trying to form sentences in their head by sticking individual words together.

The resulting speech is often hesitant, unnatural and riddled with mistakes.

The key to success is using word combinations (phrases, idiomatic expressions, idioms and so on) – just like any guitar player would use combinations of strings (chords).

It’s common sense among musicians, so why it’s not the same in the English teaching industry?

The answer is as simple as it’s shocking: due to the specific nature of English studies (textbooks, translation, written assessments tests and so on) the main focus is put on developing writing skills and comprehension ability.

Plus the fact that translation plays a major role in the traditional English teaching industry, and the compound effect of it all results in English students being focused way too much on details (notes, strings) instead of seeing the bigger picture (chords, song lyrics).

5. Just like advanced guitar chords can be simplified, you can use simple language when speaking in English!

Professional guitar play like that of Slash or Jimi Hendrix is great to listen to and enjoy – just like we can listen to an eloquent native English speaker deliver a motivational speech – Tony Robbins would be a good example.

What are the chances of you being able to deliver the same kind of music or speech?

Next to none. People I just mentioned are one of the greatest in their respective fields.

It doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t play the SAME songs or talk about the SAME subjects.

We’re all capable of it, it’s just a matter of simplifying the chords and using simpler language, that’s all there is to it!

I can play Knocking on Heaven’s Door and feel as if I were Slash (I like Guns n’ Roses version better than Bob Dylan’s original) despite using only 4 simple chords. Slash must have been using 100 different finger placements, but I can do just fine with a few chords.

Of course, if I ever feel like it, I can work on my guitar play and achieve quite a decent level – just like I’ve been working relentlessly on my English fluency.

It’s beside the point, however, because simplicity is not to be scorned upon regardless of your level of English skills or guitar skills. Bob Dylan is still using the same basic chords, and native English speakers are also using fairly simple expressions in their daily conversations.

6. You can play almost all popular songs using a few basic chords – and you can get along with the most commonly used phrases in your daily conversations!

Did you know that most of popular hit songs are actually very simple? You may want to watch this video where a bunch of very well-known songs are performed using only 4 chords:

  • Hi Sunny Liu,

    Unfortunately, the same old-school grammar-translation method is still pretty much alive everywhere in the world, and I’m not sure if it’s ever going to change…