The More English You Know, The… Less You Know?!

By Robby

If you are new here please read this first.


Hello boys and girls and welcome back to my video blog! I’m Robby from and I’m your fluency mentor, and today’s video is going to be dedicated to the following subject:

Sometimes as you go about your English learning and improvement routine you will kind of realize that THE MORE YOU KNOW, the less fluent you become!

If you reminisce about days gone by, a couple years ago probably – when you just started learning the English language, when you knew not so much – basically when your knowledge was quite limited – you could actually say a whole lot more than now, when your knowledge is quite thorough and profound and you know a lot of synonyms describing the same abstract concepts and things and so on and so forth, you sometimes find that you actually struggle to say anything at all!

But in the very early stages of your English fluency improvement and learning attempts you could say a whole lot more, or at least so it seems, right?

So why this funny thing is happening?

There’s a very easy explanation for that, my friends: it’s SYNONYMS, English vocabulary in general and how you’ve learned it – that’s what it all boils down to ❗

And here is a typical example: imagine you’re walking past a derelict building and there’s something dodgy going on in there, there’s a couple of guys lurking in the dark and it seems that they might be up to no good.

In the very beginning, when you’d just started to learn the English language, there would be probably just one way you would describe that particular scene: you would say that those people are doing something illegal maybe, but now, as the years have gone by and you’ve been exposed to a whole lot more English content and you’ve learned a whole lot more, you know a lot of different ways to describe the same thing.

So, when we look at that scene, there are a lot of different words kind of floating in your mind, if you like.

Illegal,… unlawful,… dodgy,… clandestine – maybe even this sophisticated word might have been picked up by you when you visited one of those online dictionary websites where they offer you words of the day which, in most cases, aren’t actually used in real life.

So, when you’re witnessing that particular scene of a couple people doing something in an abandoned building, all these words might be floating in your brain and all of a sudden you can’t actually describe the simple concept whereas a couple years ago when you only knew ONE word – illegal – that’s the way you would’ve just said it: “Those guys are doing something illegal, probably” or “maybe”.

Even the simple word “maybe” – it’s got three synonyms. The most popular ones that can be used interchangeably: maybe, perhaps, probably. So if you know only one way of describing this concept – “maybe” – it presents no difficulties because your brain doesn’t have to choose from one of them.

But, when you know that there are a couple more words describing pretty much the same concept – “perhaps” and “probably” –

You may start wondering which one you have to pick…

… which one is the best for this particular situation and THAT’S when you may have the typical fluency issue whereby you just can’t say anything at all and you get stuck in the middle of a sentence.

You might have actually started saying the sentence: “Those guys are..” and then you kind of get stuck because there are so many ways of describing that scene that your brain goes into a kind of an overdrive.

You can’t choose among those various options and you just can’t say anything at all. So obviously, if you’ve been following my blog and watching my videos, you’ll know what the solution is:

You have to learn English phrases and collocations describing particular situations.

So, if those guys are up to no good in this particular instance, you’ll learn the phrase: “it seems that those guys are up to no good.” “Up to no good”you repeat that phrase and, instead of trying to choose from a number of words, you just dismiss it all and just use this phrase: “Those guys are up to no good.”

Or, if you want to be a little bit more sophisticated, you can say that they’re probably involved in some illegal activities. “Illegal activity” – a very valid English collocation and you have to repeat this particular phrase: “Those people are probably involved in illegal activities”, “illegal activities”, “involved in illegal activities”.

Repeat it a good few times so that it imprints into your brain, and next time around when you witness a similar scenario unfolding in front of your eyes, that sentence will actually just come out of your mouth without your active involvement!

You basically just open your mouth and out it comes: “There’s illegal activity going on”, you know. So that’s the solution to the problem and, as I said –

This phenomenon occurs the more knowledge you acquire but you’ve acquired it the wrong way!

As you build your English vocabulary, you’ve mostly acquired individual words without associating them to other English words, without learning them as part of phraseology, and then, as you try and speak, your mind just sometimes draws a blank and you can’t say anything at all simply because there’s this vast amount of individual English words floating in your brain.

You can recognize them, you know them, which means they’re all a part of your passive vocabulary, which is words you can recognize, but you can’t use them in real life and THAT’S why it might seem to you that the more you know, the less you know!

As far as using that vocabulary goes, yes, sometimes more is less ❗

Sometimes, the more synonyms you’ve learned, the less you can actually use them in real life.

I remember when I was having my fluency issues, I was going for job interviews and having conversations with work colleagues and with various other people, I was experiencing pretty much the same thing.

I was building a massive English vocabulary, I was learning a lot of new English words on a daily basis, but, as far as the conversations, I just couldn’t speak whereas a couple of years prior to that, just when I arrived in Ireland, I didn’t have big difficulties talking to people.

I would use my vocabulary as it was at the time and, even though I was still experiencing certain fluency issues on a lot of occasions, I could actually maintain a normal conversation, albeit with a very simplistic vocabulary, right?

So, there you go, my friends. This is why this funny thing happens, this is why you have this feeling as if the more you acquire, in terms of the English language, the less you know.

The solution, as I said, is to learn all that vocabulary as part of phraseology and make it situational!

As you learn a particular phrase, imagine witnessing that scenario unfolding in front of you and put yourself in that situation in your mind’s eye, close your eyes and imagine yourself being in that situation because our lives are about situations we experience.

We talk with people, we discuss something, we retell past events, for example, but while doing so we actually go back to those events ourselves in our mind and it’s all situational, basically.

It’s not as if you’re just taking some abstract words, sticking them together, creating sentences that flow naturally out of your mouth. No, it’s not like that.

There’s abstract imagery going on in your head at all times when you speak in English!

So, that’s about it, my friends. That’s the message I wanted to convey to you today. So, basically this phenomenon of not being able to speak as you progress through your English studies can be put down to the fact that you’re not learning your vocabulary the right way.

Once you start doing that, you will definitely witness a massive improvement to your ability to speak in English fluently, my friends.

Alright, thanks for watching this video and if you have any comments whatsoever, related to this video or English improvement in general, don’t hesitate to publish them in the comments section below this video.

Thanks for watching and talk to you soon, my friends! 😉


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
  • Thanks for the positive feedback, much appreciated! I’m really glad you like my blog and you find it informative – a good place to start would probably be the archives page here where you can find all posts and videos sorted by their categories:

  • Ferds

    Thanks Robby for the great topic! This really makes sense. Btw, I really like reading your blog. There’s so much to learn here…