March 7

What Not to Focus On

By Dr Julian Northbrook

Here are three things NOT to focus on if you want to get better at speaking English.

#1 Words

You’re all obsessed with vocabulary.

More! More! More!

And yet you’re still not getting good at speaking English, are you?

Think of Einstein’s definition of insanity.

(Apparently Einstein never actually said this but it is widely attributed to him, so whatever.)

“If you keep doing the same thing and expecting different results then you are insane.”

Well you, my friend, are barking mad.

How well has this worked for you in the past? You keep memorising more and more and more vocabulary but you still don’t speak well. You still don’t speak naturally and you still don’t speak fluently.

So what do you do?

You keep memorising more and more words.

Nope, that ain’t gonna help you.

Even native speakers don’t know that many words. Sure, they know more than you, I expect, but they don’t know that many (only about 2.5% of the words in English, in fact).

You see, what’s important is not how many words you know. It’s the depth of your knowledge and how you are able to combine them into common chunks of English.

#2 Grammar

Exactly the same principle.

You make mistakes with your grammar so what do you do?

You study more grammar.

But you still keep making mistakes with your grammar so you study more grammar.

You see how this works?

You’re doing the same thing and getting the same result. And it’s not going anywhere but you’re still doing the same thing.

Different results only come from doing different things.

If you want to improve your accuracy, simply studying grammar rules will not work.

#3 practising

I have always found this concept to be somewhat bizarre.

This idea of practising your English speaking….

I speak Japanese at a pretty damn high level, if I do say so myself. And you know what? I have never once “practised my Japanese speaking”. I have always learned the language and then gone out there and done real things in the real world.

You see, you get good at what you do.

And if what you are doing is having practise sessions with a conversation partner or with a conversation teacher whom you pay to sit there and listen to you ramble on… well that’s what you are going to get good at doing.

The problem is you’re sitting there chatting away at your conversation teacher. And your conversation teacher is sitting there nodding along pretending that they have a clue or even care what you’re talking about. But actually, they’re thinking about what they’re gonna do at the weekend… or wondering when their hangover is going to get better.

Then you go out into the real world and try to do things in real, high-pressure situations. And you fall to pieces … because that’s not what you practised!

Much, much better would’ve been to just skip the practise bollocks…

… and just gone out and done REAL things with your English.

If You Want My Help

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