[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Students often tell me that they wish they could speak more English with more fluency. But, what exactly IS fluency? According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, fluency means “able to speak a language very well.” But does that mean with perfect intonation and pitch? And without the tiniest of grammatical errors? No way! Native English speakers make those mistakes all the time. So what does fluency really allude to?
“Fluent”, in the literal sense, means “to flow freely or abundantly”. But that definition lends itself more to a feeling or sensation the a speaker feels when he or she is using the language in forms of output such as writing or speaking. So to create fluency, we must help the learner create a sense of confidence in his or her speech.
I think that what students want is you feel more confident when speaking a language that they have been studying. And what gives them that confidence? Practice! Most English classes focus on the mechanic of grammar and its usage, but I know that the practice and study of pronunciation is crucial to a learner’s fluency, because an accent can get in the way of someone understanding you. It happens more often that I would like to admit, especially in English. Ask any English learner!
So, what creates an accent?
Every language has its own inventory of sounds and differing rules for combining those sounds as well as different stress and intonation patterns (Avery & Ehrlich, 2003). An English learner, especially adults, tend to transfer the sounds of their native language into English, thus creating their “accent”. An accent is a combination of four main components of speech; voice quality, intonation, word connections and sound pronunciation (Choon, 2012). Learning to focus on each of these aspects with the help of a pronunciation specialist is key to moving beyond your accented English.
The Native Language Influence
The sound system of the native language tends to influence a learner’s pronunciation of English in at least three ways. First, are the sounds of English. Any sound that is not familiar or part of the sound inventory of the learner’s native language can create difficulties. In most cases, the pronunciation of unfamiliar sounds depends of proper usage of the musculature of the mouth. Getting learners to move their mouths in different ways can often prove an uncomfortable task. Secondly, the rules for new combinations of sounds may differ creating more challenges. And finally, new stress and intonation patterns, which determine the overall rhythm and “song” of English, are generally transferred from the learner’s native language and will need to be re-learned and practiced in order to increase his or her comprehensibility. In fact, this aspect is often referred to as the most important aspect of a speaker’s English comprehensibility.
The native language not only affects a learner’s ability to produce accurate English sounds, but also the ability to understand them. It is as if the sounds the student hears is run through a filter of their own native language that sorts the sounds into similar sounds that they can recognize.
The Sounds of English
English is NOT a phonetic language. What does that mean? Well, it means that the English spelling system often often fails to represent the sounds of English in a reliable manner. So, sometime the letter “a” sounds like the “a” in cake and sometimes it sometimes it sounds like it does in the word apple. Same letter, different sounds. Similarly, many English sounds can have many different spellings. Take the list of words below for example:
to too two through new blue Sioux
Each of these words contain the /uw/ sound, but all are spelled differently. Isn’t English crazy?
Where to Start?
Learning a speak a language with fluency takes commitment just like any new skill. If you want to be more fit and healthy, what do you need to do? Practice being fit! Same with learning a language. So what are the steps you should take? Keep reading and we will help you get on your learning journey.
- Decide – Make the decision that you want to make a change in your ability to use English.
- Goals – Chose a goal that reflects your motivation. Be specific and determine a relevant and reasonable time line. Setting goals is key to all successful endeavors.
- Why – Understanding the “why” of your goals is important to keep in mind. Do you wish to attain a better job? Speak more clearly with your spouse? Or are you just tired of people asking, “what did you say?” Either way, outline those reasons to help yourself stay motivated throughout the process.
- Search – There are many ways you can learn. You may choose to learn in a classroom with a group of students. You may prefer the self-study method and buy a bunch of books on grammar rules. Or, you could chose the best of both worlds and learn from the comfort of your own home and chose an online learning platform.
- Schedule – Find a program that offers classes that fit your schedule. Or, even better, arrange your schedule to fit the class you want to attend. The more comfortable and easy the schedule, the more likely you are to stay committed to your English-learning goal.
- Commit – Make the commitment to raise your level of English and then take the steps to stick to your plan.
Finally, and most importantly, is practicing your new skill. If you run your fastest 50 yard dash only once, it’s just a fluke. But, if you do it over and over it becomes your new normal and that’s where you find progress. Listen to English podcasts, read the news in English, find ANY space in your busy life to infuse English and I promise you will see results. Remember, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” ‒Ludwig Wittgenstein
To learn more about how Go English Coach can help you speak better English, check out our upcoming class. I have only 25 spots available and am offering a great discount. Classes begin December 3rd, 2017. See you there!
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