To speak English accurately and fluently, one thing is more important than anything else: Knowing which words go together.
This doesn’t come from studying the rules of English grammar or from memorizing definitions. It comes from practice.
When I say practice I don’t mean conversation. Conversation is using what you know, what you’ve practiced and can remember.
Then what is practice?
Do you play a musical instrument? Practice is playing the same song repeatedly, making mistakes, getting more comfortable, enjoying it more, developing your skills.
The “conversation” is performing the song in front of people.
Do you play a sport? Practice is repeating your moves, making mistakes, getting more comfortable, enjoying it more, developing your skills.
The “conversation” is playing a competitive match against someone.
Do you cook? Draw? Dance? Okay, you get the idea.
If I said “Hello” to you, what would you say? You’d probably say “Hello” back to me.
But what if I said Hello You might say It’s me (Adele).
Or, if you’re old like me, you might say, Is it me you’re looking for? (Lionel Richie)
- Just _____ it.
- _____ bless you.
- I _____out _____ night and _____ a movie
Answers: do; God; went, last, saw
Extra credit: Oppa Gangnam _____
Did you answer correctly? If so, I don’t believe it’s because of studying English or engaging in conversation.
You’ve heard or read these sentences many times. They sound right. You automatically know which words go together. You can recall them accurately and fluently because you’ve practiced them.
On the other hand, if you thought “I _____out _____ night” was “I went out yesterday night,” you probably haven’t heard or seen the phrase “last night” frequently enough.
What’s the best way to learn which words go together?
Repeat-and enjoy-English in context. That is, practice phrases and sentences in natural situations. This is meaningful practice. It’s not memorizing lists of words or analyzing grammatical structures. (Of course, there’s nothing wrong this type of practice if it motivates you and helps you learn. But most students I know find it boring and ineffective.)
Practicing English in context is listening to music, reading a story, or watching a TV series. It’s playing a computer game, reading a social media post, or doing a crossword puzzle.
I recently did a week of Rhyme On Time workshops for English students in Poland. At a workshop in Warsaw, a girl approached me speaking accurate and fluent English.
“Your English is great!” I said. “What’s your secret?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I just love it. I’m kind of addicted to this online game I play with kids from different countries.”
I said, “Is there anything else you like to do in English?”
She said, “I watch these YouTube videos where American gamers give tips on how to play the game.”
“Do you usually watch these videos once or more than once?” I asked.
“Oh, I watch the same videos over and over again,” she said. “I need to catch everything they say.”
I often meet students like this, students who are proficient in English thanks to fun and meaningful practice. This one was particularly special, however. When I asked when she had the chance to speak English outside of class, here’s what she told me.
“I try to talk in class as much as I can but, actually, this is the first time I’ve ever had a conversation outside of the classroom.”
Incredible, right? But imagine someone who loves dancing so much that when he finally has the chance to perform in front of people, he dances really well. Or a person who is so into cooking that the first meal she makes for guests is absolutely amazing.
In a previous blog post, I asked 34 English language experts to offer their advice on how to achieve fluency. Here’s my favorite, from Chuck Sandy.
“Practice builds accuracy. Accuracy builds confidence. Confidence builds fluency.”
By repeatedly playing an online game in English and watching videos, the student in Warsaw knew, with accuracy, which words went together. This made her confident to approach me. And this confidence enabled her to speak fluently.
Of course, there are times when it’s useful to study English. And everyone learning English wants (and needs) more opportunities to engage in conversation.
But without fun and meaningful practice, I don’t think it’s possible to speak fluently.
English learners, everywhere, never forget:
The more you practice, the more fluent you get.
The more fluent you get, the further you’ll go.
So, Relax, Repeat, Remember and find your flow.
Students: How do you practice English? Please let me know in a comment below. And click here to join my English practice program, the Weekly English Workout.
Teachers: Do any of your students get English practice outside of the classroom? What do you do to encourage them to practice? Please let me know in a comment below. And click here to check out The Fluency MC Song and Video Activity Book.
Jason R. Levine (Fluency MC) helps English learners around the world practice their way to fluency through his online speaking practice program, the Weekly English Workout. Students and teachers can try a free sample here. Fluency MC is based in Paris, France and conducts Rhyme On Time student workshops and teacher development workshops at schools worldwide. For information and bookings, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.