Is speaking English a mental activity or a physical activity?
As language learners, we tend to think of speaking English is a mental activity….
But, when you are learning how to speak English better, it’s actually very similar to the process of learning a new physical skill like: dancing, skiing, or even riding a bike!
In this article, I’ll be comparing the process of improving your speaking skills to learning a new sport; you will understand why it feels so difficult to speak English in the beginning and how to improve your speaking skills!
Learning How to Speak English
If you decided you wanted to learn how to ski, it would probably be best to take a lesson so you have some knowledge about what you need to do to get to the bottom of the hill in one piece!
KNOWING what to do, doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to fall, make a mistake or have to think about what you are doing.
Knowledge or Facts You Understand: Your instructor wants to make sure you know how to turn and stop. After he explains how to do it, you understand that you need to put more pressure on your right leg to start turning as soon as you start to go down the hill.
Developing the Skills: The first time you try to follow the instructions, you start putting pressure on your leg, but the ski does not turn very much and you immediately fall down! However, after trying to do the same thing several times, you learn how to turn to turn!
Speaking Better Takes Practice
To learn how to speak English well, you need to start with some basic knowledge (which you already have): basic pronunciation, common vocabulary and a few grammar rules like how to conjugate a verb.
Even though you ‘know’ the words and you ‘learned’ how to put the sentence together, when you try to speak English, it is really difficult! Your brain is trying to do an ‘action’ based on the knowledge that was stored in your brain while you focused on learning individual activities and rules.
When you speak, your thoughts are spontaneous and you have to recall several rules to structure the sentence correctly and remember the correct vocabulary WHILE trying to speak out loud with good pronunciation to be understood.
Every time that you use a new word or remember a grammar rule while speaking, you are developing your speaking skills. This is the process of remembering and using your knowledge.
At first, speaking English is slow and uncomfortable. After using the most common words hundreds of times and putting together different grammar structures, it becomes faster and easier to recall this information.
Speaking fluency is developed when you use your English ‘knowledge’ with ‘action’ of speaking.
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Advancing your Speaking Skills
Back to the skiing example…
Skiing: Once you have learned how to turn and stop, you need to learn how to connect your turns without stopping.
English: You started by saying short, simple sentences. Now, you need to practice more complex and complete sentences that flow together.
Skiing: Your instructor will give you more of the ‘knowledge’ that you will need to continue improving.
English: Your English teacher or an online lesson will teach your something new or challenge you to do a speaking activity.
Skiing: When you try to connect your turns skiing, you are thinking about the new information you learned to help you do the activity.
English: Just like with speaking… You need to think about the rules, recall vocabulary and slowly put together your ideas.
Skiing: With practice, you will you develop your skills and be able to turn gracefully down the hill.
English: With enough practice, you will speak correctly, using good vocabulary and with more fluently.
How to Speak English Without Thinking
The first time you learn a new skill skiing, you have to think about every single movement because you are trying to apply the knowledge that your instructor gave you to develop a certain skill.
When you are learning how to speak English… you will also need to think about every word you use and how to correctly use the grammar until you are comfortable with using those words.
The cool thing is that after you use the same words and verbs over and over again, you won’t have to think about them as much. If you practice speaking enough, you will be able to respond a lot faster without thinking about vocabulary or grammar.
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Using More “Active Vocabulary” While Speaking
What is ‘Active Vocabulary’ exactly?
Have you ever noticed that when you try to speak, very often you cannot remember a certain word? But, when you hear that same word or you see it while reading, you recognize it. That is the difference between active vocabulary and passive vocabulary.
Active vocabulary is the set of words that you can instantly recall when speaking. These words are familiar and easy to use. You don’t need to stop and remember what the word is before saying it. Having active vocabulary shows that you have practiced speaking and have developed speaking ‘skills’.
Passive vocabulary is the type of vocabulary that you have stored in the ‘knowledge’ department of your brain. You might be able to remember it eventually, but you have to stop your speaking in order to remember it.
Passive vocabulary is useless when you are speaking because you aren’t able to remember it quickly enough and you aren’t confident to use it.
It is like reading about ‘how to ski’ compared to trying to ski down a hill. The facts you learned about skiing, do not make you a good skier. You need to train your body and brain how to react without thinking.
Once your brain has used vocabulary or grammar several times in different situations, it is easier to recall for the next time it is needed.
The Fastest Way to Speak English Better
Practicing your speaking A LOT is the fastest way to use vocabulary in an active way. Especially with speaking practice exercises that you can do alone!
Yes, by speaking alone. Without the pressure of another person waiting for you to finish speaking. This is because you can stop to remember words you know or look up the words you do not know or cannot remember, then use them immediately.
An Easy Speaking Practice Activity
Start by trying to talk about what you are doing now, what are your plans for later in the week or what you did yesterday.
More Challenging Topics to Learn How to Speak English Better
Watch a video, listen to some audio or read about something. Try to explain what the topic was about. Start with a general summary of 2 or 3 sentences, later try to give as much detail as possible.
When you start to recognize the difference between ‘knowing’ English and ‘using’ English, it can help you understand why it feels so difficult.
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