4 Pieces of Evidence That Past Experience, Context and Mental Associations is Everything When it Comes to Spoken English

By Robby

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Spoken English associations

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We humans are creatures of habit and conditioning and all our actions are rooted in the past performance and experience.

No matter what human activity is looked at, chances are that your subconscious remembers similar activity from the past and it dictates you what to do. The tricky part is, you might not be even aware of it because your brain literally has a mind of its own and you might have a very little say in the process.

Let’s say for instance, you’ve just started in a new company and you have to speak with plenty of new people during your first days in the new job. Your English performance is quite good, and you’re satisfied with yourself.

Then comes along a particular person you experience a few awkward moments with because you don’t really know what to say to each other. You hesitate, you stutter, you say something silly. It’s no big deal, it happens to everyone, right?

Yeah, right… Try to say it to your brain ❗ 😀

There’s a big likelihood that every time you meet that person, you’ll be more prone to making mistakes and not being able to speak proper English – and all because of that first bad experience. And, if it happens for a few more times, the damage is done. Conditioned reflex has been created.

Do you want more proof that past experience and spoken English performance are closely related resulting in conditioned reflexes?

Then read the rest of this article and you’ll see for yourself that spoken English is all about past experiences, associations and conditioned behavioral patterns ❗

1. We use pretty much the same means of expression in similar situations

Whether it’s greeting your work colleagues in the morning, or answering questions during a history class at the college, we use pretty much the same sentence structure and vocabulary all the time.

You probably haven’t put too much thought to it, but conditioning in terms of your English speech patterns manifests itself strongly enough for us to see that we have a constant feedback between our memory and language, and we say things the way we’ve said them on previous similar situations.

What I’m talking about here doesn’t refer simply to learning process when we memorize new English words and sentences; the point I’m trying to make here is that your brain creates associations between certain practical situations and the English language.

For instance, when I’m at work and me and my partner are both doing admin work at the same time, I would ask him – “Will, is Louis looking after the floor now?” – if I’m not sure if Louis is bringing garments from the production area down to the warehouse.

Every time the same situation occurs, I use the same phrase because my brained is conditioned to do so and I don’t have to make any effort to create that sentence.

Whenever I have a loose garment that needs to be put in a bag, I go down to the bagging table in the production area, hand it to the girl working there and ask her nicely – “Emma, could you bag this jumper for me, please?”

It’s a sentence I’ve said tens, maybe even hundreds of times before and my mouth produces it automatically; I wouldn’t have any problems saying it to her even on a bad English fluency day because that phrase is very strongly associated with that practical situation.

No matter how trivial these examples may seem to you, it’s very important that you understand what it means to all foreign English speakers in practical terms.

Spoken English fluency isn’t achieved by sticking separate words together while applying corresponding grammar rules. It’s about learning how to say certain things in certain situations and once our brain is built to create such associations, why ignore the obvious?

Memorize most commonly used English phrases instead and see your fluency improve much faster than you ever thought possible!

2. When speaking in English, we make the same mistakes all over and over again

This one is closely related to the previous point and it highlights the downsides of our conditioning in terms of spoken English performance.

While past experience and associations allow us to speak automatically in hundreds of different situations, it also means that if you start saying something incorrectly, it will stick with you and you’ll find it very difficult to get rid of that habit.

For example, to this day I sometimes find myself referring to a female by the personal pronoun “he” and it’s all because a wrong mental association was created back in the days when I used to recite grammar rules when learning English.

Visual associations, for instance, have a very strong and lasting effect, and I used to make all sorts of terrible English mistakes simply because I couldn’t stop analyzing my speech having gone through grammar rules in my notebook countless times. When I started speaking, I would often see a certain grammar rule written in my notebook in my mind’s eye, and I couldn’t stop odd English words from forcing themselves in my speech – and all because my brain’s innate ability of contextual learning was backfiring on me.

Instead of producing automatic, relevant English phrases and sentences I kept seeing technical grammar descriptions in front of my eyes – such as “definite article “the” is used when…” – and it made me hesitate, stumble upon words, repeat words with and without articles…

Only when I stopped my English grammar drills and started focusing on learning English phraseology and idiomatic expressions, would the old associations slowly abate, and I think it’s a perfect example of how conditioned behavior plays a major role in our ability to speak a language fluently.

Not to mention the example in the beginning of this article when one develops some sort of an anxiety when speaking with certain people and if it’s not dealt with soon enough, it may develop into a strong conditioned behavioral pattern.

3. We feel more comfortable speaking English in surroundings resembling our English study environment

Context and associations manifest themselves not only in terms of the actual words and sentences you’re able to say in particular situations.

They also play a role when we look at how your ability to speak English fluently is affected by location.

If you, for instance, live in a foreign country and only engage in English language related activities at home, you may find it difficult to speak with real people in real situations because your brain might have created a strong association between learning and speaking in English and your home environment.

Similarly, if your only spoken English practice takes place in classroom settings under the guidance of your teacher, you may find it much harder to speak when out and about.

You see – over time you’ve become very comfortable speaking in front of your teacher because he’s always there for you to correct an odd mistake, to remind of a forgotten word and to reassure you of your spoken English abilities.

That’s why it’s so important to engage in as many English related activities as possible if you want to be a confident foreign English speaker at all times. You’ll thank yourself LATER ON if you force yourself to speak in English in unfamiliar settings NOW!

As you can see, past experience plays a critical role in your ability to perform well when engaging in English conversations, so please make it your goal to go out of your way to speak English outside a classroom, your home desk, or your local evening English classes.

4. We struggle to remember simple words on certain occasions yet we have no difficulties using them in relevant situations

Do you know the game where you’re required to come up with words beginning with a certain letter? Let’s say for example, the letter is “F”, and you have to write down a country, a river, a capital, an animal, a person’s name etc. beginning with the letter “F”. It may sound easy peasy at first, but a few moments later you may really start to struggle.

What does that prove?

It just goes to show that we find it quite difficult to search through our vocabulary using certain abstract criteria; our brain works using associations and context and relies heavily on our lifetime experiences.

If you’re planning to visit your relatives, you have no problems whatsoever remembering your aunt Felicia; when thinking of people’s names beginning with a letter “F” that name might easily slip your mind – unless, of course, you’re going through images of all people you know in your mind trying to find a matching name, (which is another proof that our minds rely on associations).

The very same goes with spoken English in general – you’re so much more likely to know the right description of certain items and concepts when you’re dealing with them than if you’re required to name something out of context.

Sometimes not being able to remember certain English words may even put you under the wrong impression that your general English knowledge is worse than it actually is. In reality on most occasions it can be explained by the simple fact of contextual nature of human brain, and it’s perfectly normal! 😉


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