Unnatural Collocations and Wrong Mental Associations
I've highlighted the importance of learning English collocations in many of my previous blog posts; this time let’s look at what happens if you create wrong associations in your mind between words in English as well as in your own language. If it doesn’t sound believable, just think of such quite a realistic situation. An ESL student is learning how to conjugate the verb ‘to be’ so he’s reciting the string of words “I am, you are, he, she, it is, we are, you are, they are…” in order to memorize the personal pronouns with the respective form of the verb ‘to be’. Now, when the student has repeated the aforementioned sequence of words for a good number of times, it imprints itself into his mind, and the desired effect has been achieved. Of course, for those words to stick with the student permanently, he needs to go back to them the next day, and then after a few more days – that’s the basic principle of spaced repetition. Anyway, the job is done, and the English student is now capable of using the verb ‘to be’ in real life conversations, isn’t that right? All right, fair enough! But now let’s try to remember how many times you’ve heard a foreign English speaker mix up the two personal pronouns – ‘he’ and ‘she’ – when speaking? I would say it happens quite often, and by the way – haven’t you made the same mistake at some stage during a quick chat in English? I have, and I have my own theory on why it happens. It’s all because wrong association has been created between the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’ when repeating the words “… he, she, it is…” :!: You’re training your mouth to pronounce those two words together in one phrase and later on even years after you were just a beginner English learner, you may catch yourself saying things like “You know, I haven’t seen her before. He… sorry, she… hmm… she is Jennifer’s sister and is going to work here for the next half year while Jen is away.” Had there been a strong separate connection created between words ‘she is and ‘he is’ followed by a contextual example or an abstract image of a male and female, you wouldn’t be making such mistakes. Your subconscious mind would be used to describing activities where females are involved as “she is…”, so I’ll say it once again – it’s all about unnatural collocations, and I have loads of advice in store for you on how to avoid creating wrong associations in your mind! Did it pique your interest? Then read on! (more…)
Moving to an English Speaking Country is Like Recovering Eyesight
Mad Stuff – Speaking With Hard Foreign Accent to Facilitate English Fluency
Why Thursdays are My BEST English Fluency Days
We all get our good and bad days. There are some days when everything seems to be acting against us, but then on other days we’re flying and we get all tasks done easily. And you know what? It’s pretty normal! Same goes with English fluency. There are days when we can speak English with such ease it seems we were born English speakers. Sometimes it’s quite the opposite – we have to make effort to verbalize our thoughts and we also tend to make more mistakes when speaking than normally. And you know what? It’s normal, too! But today’s story isn’t about the fluctuating English fluency. Today I wanted to share with you something I noticed recently at work, and to be honest with you, it didn’t just happen overnight, it’s just that all the pieces came together just now. So to cut a long story short, I noticed that I’m best at speaking English with my work colleagues on Thursdays. If you’ve known me for a while, you’ll know that I feel comfortable enough when speaking English on any day of the week, yet for some odd reason my English fluency trend would peak on Thursdays in particular. On Thursdays I’d speak absolutely effortlessly with everyone working in the office, with manufacturing department managers and of course, those working with me in the dispatch. OK, but why Thursdays? What Thursdays have got to do with one’s English fluency levels? (more…)
Top 15 Invaluable Pieces of Advice for Foreigners Settling Down in an English Speaking Country
1. Be realistic about the level of interest in your national background by others. Be proud of your origins, but don’t be obsessed with telling every single person you meet about your country, your nationality, how “How are you” sounds in your native language, the name of your president, your favorite national soccer team… People will listen to you just to be polite, but don’t forget that for someone living in an English speaking country like the US, Australia or the UK, the name of your country might not ring any bells at all! Personally I quite like it when people don’t ask questions about my origins right off the bat and I’ve realized by now that whenever they DO ask that question “Where are you from?” right after you introduce yourself, it’s just small-talk really. So I think we foreigners should be realistic about the interest of locals in our culture and we shouldn’t be too enthusiastic! In my current job, for instance, I got two know two girls a couple of weeks ago and they didn’t seem to notice the fact that I was a foreigner. Not that they couldn’t tell it, but our conversations never went that far. Only recently they showed interest in my background, so I think it’s natural to speak about those topics when you get to know someone better rather than boasting to everyone how cool your country is! Many years ago I used to work with a bunch of Romanian lads, and believe me – there was nothing more annoying than listening to hours long stories of their home country and how great life was back there, and how miserable their situation is in Ireland… For Christ’s sake, will you get a grip on yourselves?!? Don’t take me wrong – I’m not saying there’s something wrong with being proud of your nationality, not at all! My point is – put yourself in the other person’s shoes and maybe you’ll realize the conversation is boring for your conversation partner. IMPORTANT! -> Why I'm highlighting parts of text in RED? 2. Stop spotting mistakes in native English speakers’ conversations and pointing them out to others. There is no such thing as correct English! English is spoken differently in many countries and regions so don’t be the perfectionist telling everyone how awful locals speak, and how grammatically wrong some of the most commonly used local phrases are. Oxford English and real English are hundreds of miles apart, and you’ll be more practical by learning spoken English as it’s spoken in the country you live in than spotting mistakes and pointing out that according to proper English standards this or that particular thing doesn’t sound right. I can tell you one thing I’ve heard quite often in the local Latvian community when we’ve touched the topic of English learning and improving – “Irish themselves don’t speak correct English!” I think it’s rather a handy excuse not to improve one’s English (if the locals don’t speak correctly, how they can accuse me of speaking wrong?), or just trying to show off one’s academic English knowledge which actually has much smaller practical application when going about the daily life. We, foreigners, should realize one thing – theoretical correctness has little importance in dealing with real life situations. So don’t be the perfectionist by keeping saying “Has it been done?” if you hear everyone else around you using a much simpler colloquial phrase “Is it done?” Also it’s important to understand that native English speakers don’t make mistakes because they lack spoken English skills. Their mistakes are “natural”, and we can’t use it as an excuse not to improve our English! (more…)
Learn English Irregular Verbs Through Collocations, Idioms and Phrasal Verbs
4 Things Your English Teacher Didn’t Tell YOU!
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? (more…)
You Can Say Nearly Everything Using the Word “THING”!
Idiomatic Expressions: Why I’m Highlighting Some Bits of Text in Red in My Blog Posts
Here’s the short answer – they’re bits of spoken English any foreign English speaker should know to communicate effectively! They’re word combinations used by native English speakers and by using them you’re going to make your spoken English sound more natural and native-like. English collocations, phrasal verbs and sayings all fall under the broad category of these idiomatic expressions, and to put it simply – you can’t come up with these sort of sayings just by sticking the words together; you have to learn the EXACT phrase or word combination to be able to use it :!: There are also typical full English idioms among them, but I have to admit I have some reservations towards learning certain idioms like “It’s raining cats and dogs” or “pot calling the kettle black.” They are typical English idioms that you’ll find on any decent English idiom list online, yet they’re rarely heard in real life, if at all. My take on the whole English idiom thing (like it’s on spoken English in general) is the following – you don’t need to hammer loads of English idioms in your brain that you’re not going to use. You’d much better off using your potential as a foreign English speaker by learning idiomatic expressions because there’s a much bigger chance you’re going to use them in real life! How about the following ones: “for the argument’s sake”, “to jump to a conclusion”, “fit for the purpose”? These are typical idiomatic expressions that have some characteristics of full idioms, but at the same time it would be possible to derive their meaning from the words alone. Also, they don’t even need to be long phrases to fall under the category of idiomatic expressions. “On target”, “straight away”, “I’m all ears”, “big time” and similar short expressions are the ones that can make a difference between you being perceived a so-so English speaker or quite an advanced one! Not that you should care what others think of you, but still it’s nice to be capable of communicating with native English speakers like an equal, isn’t it? ;-) So to help you with learning these idiomatic expressions, I’ve been highlighting them in my blog posts in red color so that you can immediately see which bits are useful to memorize! (more…)
It Doesn’t Matter Who You Speak With – It’s All in Your HEAD!
Focus on What You CAN Say in English Instead of What You CAN’T!
You’ve Gotta Be Ignorant to Be a Fluent English Speaker!
Why is It Difficult to Speak with Certain People in English?
Your English isn’t the same at all times. It changes. At times you may notice you can speak very fluently, with ease. Yet sometimes you may start struggling with speaking in English with someone for no apparent reason! You have to bear in mind that ups and downs are natural in any human related performance, and spoken English is no different. Unless, of course, you’re experiencing frequent occasions when your mind goes blank and you’re unable to speak in English at all – then we can start speaking about the typical English fluency issue which haunts so many foreign English speakers. Anyway, fluctuating English fluency is normal, and there are many factors playing an important role in your English fluency – your stress levels at the time of speaking, your overall mental performance, familiarity with the topic you’re discussing and also frequency of your spoken English practice. The more often you speak English, the better you should be able to perform – it’s actually common sense, isn’t it? Yet one of the most influential factors holding sway over your spoken English performance is PEOPLE you speak with :!: Haven’t you noticed that it’s very easy to communicate in English with certain people while others make you nervous and your start mispronouncing even the simplest words? I bet you can remember situations when you’ve discussed quite complicated matters in English and it didn’t present any difficulties to you at all; yet on other occasions you’ve felt uncomfortable speaking about simple, everyday topics! As I said – much of it depends on who you speak with, so let’s delve deeper into the issue so that I can finish off this article with a few pieces of useful advice on how to manage your English conversations regardless of who is your chat partner! (more…)
Funny English Phrases #2 – Visiting a Doctor
Lost in Translation OR Why I Couldn’t Translate Gulliver’s Travels
I was watching TV the other day with my wife, kids and my sister-in-law. It was Gulliver’s Travels – a very nice family comedy, and as we settled down in the front of TV I was ready to translate it for my sister-in-law because her English isn’t as advanced as to understand every subtlety of English language. You’d think I was very comfortable with the task, right? So would I – until I realized it’s not easy at all given the fact I haven’t built my English vocabulary as direct translation from my native language. I’ve acquired the bulk of English that I use and understand by learning from context, mimicking native speakers and reading loads of English fiction. If you’re still wandering what it’s got to do with my inability to translate Gulliver’s Travels into Latvian for my sister-in-law, here’s a very detailed explanation. (more…)
English Improvement Trend & Inevitable Fluency Fluctuations – Why Is It Happening to Me?
Importance of Letting It Go!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-MYxJDnVZQ Today I’ll tell you about a phrase I heard the other day on the radio and which got me thinking about how foreign English speakers are sometimes perceived among the native English speaking public. So I was listening to my favourite morning radio show and as usual listeners were sending in text messages and the DJ was reading them out. Among the other messages there was one that wouldn’t make a 100% sense to a native English speaker yet it was obvious what the listener had meant by it. I don’t really remember what exactly it was, to be honest with you. I just know that it was an awkward word combination not used in real life. It is, of course, quite natural for any native speaker to spot such an odd word combination. And indeed, any of us foreign English speakers having spent long enough time among other English speakers would also notice something that doesn’t sound right. Little that the radio DJ knew about how foreigners speak, he jumped to a conclusion that the person who had texted in that particular message hadn’t got a good command of English. You think it’s not a big deal? It is, and let me tell you why. (more…)
English Harmony System’s Review
Taking a Break from Speaking English May Have a Positive Effect on Your Fluency!
Improve Your Spoken English by Using Spaced Repetition
Spaced repetition is a term normally associated with language learning flashcards and spaced repetition systems (SRS). I have to tell you right off the bat though that I’m not a big fan of flashcards because I’d been using the same technique when building my English vocabulary a number of years ago. In the end I realized that memorizing something that’s translated into your native language is actually going to impede your spoken English fluency :shock: No matter how controversial it may sound, language learners all over the world are becoming aware of the downsides of traditional English learning methods. Heated debates have sparked on language learning blogs about efficiency of using flashcards, for example and many language learning enthusiasts realize that a major shift in terms of language learning is happening right now. Still many language learners are oblivious to the simple fact – repeating and memorizing a phrase or a word in your target language with the corresponding translation in your native language will make it much harder to actually speak the target language :!: So that’s probably the most valuable piece of advice I can give you regarding spaced repetition and learning and improving your English – don’t create flashcards and don’t use any English learning SRS that are based on translating between two languages! But let’s stop whining about things that are wrong. Once we know that the best way to acquire new English vocabulary is to repeat and memorize words and phrases and associate them with explanations in the English language, we can move on to discussing the very nature of spaced repetition. (more…)
Don’t Be Conscious Of Your Own English Conversations!
Probably the most important piece of advice for foreign English speakers who wish to improve their English fluency is to shift their focus from technical details of their speech to the actual conversation and the person they’re speaking with. You know, we foreigners often tend to over-analyze when we speak English and it can lead to making all sorts of stupid mistakes. Being a perfectionist isn't going to make you into a fluent English speaker, so I’d say it’s very, very important to learn how to let it go and speak without being conscious of the way you speak, the way you pronounce words, and finally – the actual words you choose when speaking! It’s even possible to speak fluent English with a limited active vocabulary, and as far as you don’t think about what you can’t say but just say what you can, you’ll be more conversationally fluent than some other person who might possess more formal knowledge yet they’re too conscious to put it to good use! In other words, it’s all about being fully involved when speaking with someone instead of adopting an observer’s role and scrutinizing your own speech :!: Well, I know, I know that it’s easier said than done, but you just have to keep trying. Every time you’re having a conversation with someone in English, you have to force yourself to forget about formal English knowledge and grammar rules, and just speak. (more…)
Funny English Phrases #1 – Buying a Pair of Jeans
The Best English Class for Improving Your English Fluency
The English Language is Multidimensional Indeed!
Retelling Stories Is a Perfect Way of Improving Your Spoken English!
St Patrick’s Day Greetings
Speaking in Short Sentences? It’s Normal!
Are you often frustrated by the fact that despite being quite a well-spoken foreign English speaker you can’t always speak in full sentences? Are you even getting stuck in a middle of conversation because you WANT to finish a sentence but for some reason you just CAN’T? Let me tell you – you’re not alone. It’s quite normal! By the way – hadn’t you noticed that even native English speakers sometimes hesitate when they speak? When we write, we have all the time in the world to think over the word placement in a sentence. We can scribble out what we wrote and re-write it so that it sounds much better. As we write, we can formulate our thoughts precisely as we intend because we can take extra time to pick the most fitting words. And most importantly, we can compose nice, complete sentences to create an easy-to-understand message! When we speak, it’s a bit different story. Unless you’re a very eloquent foreign English speaker, your speech will be quite different from a written piece of text. Well, I've always held the opinion that the best way to write is to actually speak about the subject aloud and put it all down on paper. Still, when we speak, quite often our mind drifts away and we can’t articulate our thoughts exactly as we want. Especially – when we have to talk about something we’re not really familiar with! If it’s becoming a real issue, it has to be dealt with. But no matter what situation you find yourself in, it always helps to be aware of the fact that in real life English communication people often speak in short, often unfinished and broken sentences :!: (more…)
Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced English Grammar? Nonsense!
Spoken English Topics and Technical Aspects of Spoken English Exercising
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TULSesfUYJs Find It Hard to Do Spoken English Practice? Write It Down First! This video is a follow-up to the last video episode which was about the importance of practising spoken English with yourself in case you’ve got no-one to talk to! After the last episode I received quite a few e-mails asking what topics you can discuss with yourselves. I’ve come to realize that it’s not that easy for everyone to think of something to talk about so I decided to dedicate today’s video episode to various topics you can use as source of inspiration to kick-start your English practicing routine. But before you even attempt practicing English with yourself, you should remember the following. Don’t try to talk about something that is detached from reality. Don’t try to convince yourself that you should speak about something that you don’t actually take any interest in :!: A typical example of this would be taking some English learning material and reading a certain topic and then trying to create a monologue around that topic. Well, you may succeed and have a nice chat with yourself about, say, concepts of time and distance, and similar. On most occasions however, if you try to create a monologue around something that isn’t relevant for you personally, the chances are that you’ll find the very idea of such speech practicing very boring and you’ll give up after a while! :-( So the most important piece of advice to anyone who decides to engage in regular English monologues is the following – talk about something that reflects your interests, your personal and professional affairs, generally speaking – your life! And now let’s look at particular spoken English topics you can always count on not be become boring! (more…)