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Is living abroad required for fluency in English?

March 14, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

“I’ve always thought you cannot reach a good level in English unless you have some life or working experience abroad. I think it’s because everyone I know who speaks English fluently has lived in an English speaking country at least for a year.”

OK, breaking this down is easy.

Let’s start with an analogy:

If you use Instagram, you probably see all these beautiful women on there with a million followers doing their… whatever it is these Instagram women do. Take selfies? I dunno. But the point is, these “Instagram models”, they’re all hot as hell, drop-dead gorgeous.

Surely that means being on Instagram makes you beautiful, right?

Well, obviously not. That’s crazy.

It’s actually simple:

Hot women are, first and foremost, more likely to be on Instagram trying to do the Instagram Model thing than ugly women. I’m not shaming. Just stating a fact. And importantly, whether you like it or not, sexy women are much more likely to get likes, shares and promotion because people like looking at sexy people, and they respond to that. The result is a small percentage of these so-called “models” becoming highly visible.

What this means is, for the most part, you only see the drop-dead gorgeous…. but never the rest.

That doesn’t mean the rest don’t exist.

Oh, they’re there.

Somewhere.

You just don’t see them, because they’re not visible.

Here’s where I’m going with this:

“Everyone I know who speaks English fluently has lived in an English speaking country at least for a year”

This is exactly the same as the rather extreme Instagram model example, except because it’s not so in-your-face crazy to think the reason they’re so good is because they lived in an English speaking country… that’s what people believe.

But think about it.

You’re far more likely to go abroad if you love English and have put the time and effort into getting good at it, anyway. These people are predisposed to having some kind of experience abroad.

But most importantly: you wouldn’t ask someone who can’t speak English well how they got so good….. so you never realise that the amazing people are actually a minority. They might only be 1% of the people who went abroad. Could be even fewer than that. But the point is, you never see the other 99% because they’re simply not visible and so make an assumption based on bad (i.e. extremely biased) data.

This is called confirmation bias.

You believe living abroad will magically make you fluent in English (it won’t) so you search for evidence to prove yourself right.

Confirmation bias is dangerous because it makes you see things in a simplistic “A caused B” kind of way, which is simply incorrect.

In every MEFA group the members are almost always exactly 50/50 living in their home country (saying that’s why they can’t improve) and living in an English speaking country (still not improving).

Yeah, living in an English speaking country can help and can be an awesome experience. But it’s neither necessary nor sufficient to master English.

If you want some help, here’s the place to go:

https://doingenglish.com/mefa

Best,
Dr Julian Northbrook


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