Monday, 1 February 2010

Learning Method & Psychology: Why Can't I Speak Fluent English?

Recently, I have received a question from a non-student over the internet asking me for English learning advice. I reckon her concern is rather common so I would like to share my suggestions with all of you.

The lady in the email mentioned that she needs to communicate with English-speaking foreigners face-to-face and through email, but she can't express what she thinks fluently. She even feels "helpless" when she faces them.

Firstly, one should feel glad that they have the chance to communicate with English speakers at work, as there are many others who beg for the chance yet have not had the opportunity.

Secondly, foreigners are not terrifying. They are like any other human being, only that they speak a different language from yours. Babies speak their own language, which is very different from the adults' ones, but babies are not terrifying.

Thirdly, if you don't agree with my baby metaphor because you are not afraid of making mistakes when speaking to babies, but you think you are afraid of making mistakes when speaking to foreigners, then you are very wrong. Because even native speakers make mistakes! When you speak Chinese, you also make mistakes sometimes. Do you feel horrified when you make an error in speaking Chinese in front of others? No, you won't! Then what makes English more frightening than Chinese?

Lastly, if you come to the conclusion that it is because of your lack of confidence, then the best way to "grow" your confidence in speaking is to learn more, understand more and practise more! For instance, if you are afraid of cooking because you are afraid that you might burn down the house, then you learn more about cooking techniques, understand the principles of cooking safety, and then practise more cooking! Back to our point, if you are afraid of trying, then you learn more about trying, understand the benefits of trying, and then practise tryiing!

You do need to build confidence by speaking more often with foreigners, but before you get to meet any, you can prepare yourself well by working on the English on your own.

First of all, if you know you are speaking the right English with the right grammar, you wouldn't panic as much, which was why I highly recommend getting a good grammar book and work on your grammar first. After doing these exercises on the books, read the sentences / examples out loud. This is to get used to hearing your own voice saying the right thing. Repeat that every 2 days. It doesn't matter you are reading the old examples again and again, most importantly, you are hearing yourself. When I say, hearing yourself, I mean, you are focusing on listening every word you are reading. In this way, you will improve your spoken grammar.

There are many reasons for a person not being able to express themselves. Maybe it is lack of vocabulary, maybe it is lack of thinking in English, maybe it is a psychological barrier. If you like to think in Chinese, then from today, start reading some news articles and then give yourself a few minutes to discuss the topic as if a foreigner is asking you what you think, and you think completely in English. Practise that as often as you can, maybe when you are on the MTR, on the bus, or when you have nothing to do. This is what I called "English Daydreaming".

If you are interested in knowing more, please read my articles written on Learning Methods and Learning Psychology. You can find them on the right side of this blog under "Labels"

"In learning, there is no can't do, there is only how much you are willing to do." -- Locky