Updated: Dec 6, 2021
All of us teachers are often met with similar questions about how to improve speaking and also we find ourselves breaking the myths students have what it takes to be successful when it comes to communicating in English.
Which is why, I was really impressed by and watched all the videos of teachers David´s fluency course speaklikedavid.com , where he shares his very useful strategies on how to speak English like a native and what's great, these strategies apply to learning any foreign language. After, I decided to do a live with him and he kindly agreed to, to discuss this topical for many English learners subject. Following this (2 months to be precise, oops), I decided to put my own thoughts and David´s ideas into this written piece, which I truly hope many of you will be able to apply to your own learning.
Firstly, let's define fluency. Fluency, unlike accuracy isn't about perfection but it's about being able to communicate in the required context : to understand what the others are saying to you and to be understood, i.e. to get your message across to the other speaker.
Here are common myths and mistakes many English learners keep on making, which prevents them or perhaps you from being on their way to fluency: Even if you know all of these, it’s actually great as now you can be confident you are on the right path with the right strategies to become fluent.
1) "How many words must I know to be fluent?":
Ever heard of the expression " quality over quantity"? Well, it certainly applies here too. It's learning the most commonly used words and also the right vocabulary for the context that will aid your fluency. If you're learning English to communicate when travelling, surely you won't be using any automobile related words unless you're travelling by car and God forbid it breaks down. Or watching detective films will hardly fill your vocabulary bank with the useful expressions to use in a business environment. Think about the purpose of your learning and adjust your sources and strategies accordingly.
In addition, knowing just one translation of a new word doesn't mean you know how to use it appropriately in the right context, which is the true measure of fluency. Think about the context of where you picked the word up from and use online dictionaries for more ideas and sentences, as well as correct pronunciation - another must for fluency: https://dictionary.cambridge.org and https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english are my favourite dictionaries which demonstrate the correct pronunciation and also provide you with useful examples how and when to use the words and expressions appropriately. .
2) What's the best way of studying:
There's no one best way but a number of ways and means through which you can work on improving your English. If you stick to just one, say to just reading or endlessly watching videos, you're highly unlikely to ever be fluent. Use as many formats of learning as are available to you and mix them.
Watching films, reading books, listening to the radio, singing along to songs etc are all great inputs but you must find the right materials and there’s so much to choose from. Getting a good professional teacher to guide you towards your objectives is certainly the most efficient and fastest way to fluency plus you will actually practice your active communication skills.
But there's no reason why you cannot do it alone, though it will certainly take more effort and time on your part – again David discusses various options and their pros and cons in his course.
3) Being an information junkie - David's expression.
Watching tons of videos on Instagram, on Youtube etc will not make your more fluent, though of course it helps. Information is NOT knowledge. It takes hard work, active analysis and practice to turn accumulated information which you get in videos into knowledge. Information is often forgotten as soon as it's out of sight whereas knowledge sticks and it's the latter that will help you achieve true fluency. If you expend little effort, you get minimal to no results - simple as.
4) "I know more complex words which even natives don't"
A number of my Instagram followers have been quick to show off at this whilst actually learning from my page. Let me put it this way - perhaps there's a reason why natives don't use long complex words so often - they simply don't need to.
Using rare words makes you the opposite of fluent, especially in Britain where you'll be considered arrogant rather than intelligent for using complex words yet making basic grammar mistakes or not using appropriate phrasal verb, which to me is like wearing a lipstick without brushing your teeth with bits stuck in between. ( excuse me for that graphic image).
5) I don't like phrasal verbs - must I learn them?!
The simple answer being yes, of course. As confusing as phrasal verbs can be, no English communication can exist without phrasal verbs so start practising them now, no matter how difficult or confusing they may look to you. If you want to be fluent, get friendly and comfortable with phrasal verbs.
Get a good phrasal verbs book, pay attention to these when listening to or watching English and make your own examples. Again, a professional teacher will facilitate navigation of all the complexities of phrasal verbs.
6) Translating full phrases directly from their native language
This is tempting and we all do it, myself included as I'm a current active learner of French and Spanish languages. It's only natural to rely on our native language we feel comfortable with to be able to communicate in English ( or any other foreign language) but it's a trap we must make every effort to avoid falling into. The comfort pillow may be making us feeling better when we're sleeping ( passive learning stage) but when you go outside into the street, it looks somewhat ridiculous walking around with it ( the active communication stage).
The only way to avoid this is to learn collocations, phrases in English rather than solo words. Also, thinking in English is key, another key point highlighted in David's course, is something you need to learn how to do – this of course takes effort and a lot of practice.
7) "I don't want to read or study, I just want to talk"
Hardly ever do I get students that genuinely need to only talk as their theoretical English is perfect. Of course speaking skills must be practised but to truly hone the verbal communication skills, it's not enough to JUST TALK. You must focus on the input also ( again another great idea from David's course) in order to enhance your output. If all you ever do is talk, you will activate your passive knowledge but you will hardly progress further. Input includes watching and reading relevant material but not passively of course as I mentioned in the "information junkie" point.
8) Accent obsession
Thankfully, less and less people are obsessing over their accents however there's still a relative percentage that does. Don't confuse poor pronunciation with an accent - you must speak clearly, use the appropriate intonation and word stress to avoid miscommunication but that flavour that your speech has is beautiful as it simply demonstrates where you come from. If you're understood, that's what fluency is, not a "perfect" accent.
Another metaphor of mine for speaking with a great accent but making basic grammar mistakes is like wearing a crown with dirty unwashed hair and I do hope I've put you off with that image as it was intentional.
On a final word of advice, don't wait too long before you start practising. Language isn't just about textbooks - they are there to aid you in the REAL world but it's the real world with hand-on practice that teaches you the most. In the employment world for example, you will be valued more on your experience not on your degree - so getting 10 degrees isn't worth nearly as much as say 5 years of experience is. Degrees are important, just as textbooks, but work experience puts your skills to the test and you learn so much more hands-on.
And most importantly, embrace the options you're blessed to have not complain about the ones you do not, such as not being able to live in the country where English is a native language. There are plenty of cases where fluency was achieved by non-native speakers who never lived or even travelled much to English speaking countries, David being one of them. It's what you make of the resources available to you that matters the most.
Start with gratitude and the universe will open up its opportunities but remain grumpy and complain and you will not move forward an inch. The choice is in your hands and your hands only.
I'm not here to promote David's course but rather to share his and my own as well as I'm sure many teachers' ideas about what the best way to become fluent. If however you decide that his fluency course is for you, by all means go ahead and book it on speaklikedavid.com or just have a look – it’s extremely affordable and is very good value for money.
Equally, If I sound like I may be the right teacher for you, do leave a comment and a way to get in touch with you or write to me firstname.lastname@example.org