Filed Under: Learning English
July 30, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

There are a few, but from my experience (working with high-level English learners, helping them to go from “okay…” to “amazing!”) these are some of the biggest:

  1. All study all the time, with no using (which results in slow, academic English).
  2. All using all the time, with no focused study (which results in fast, but very messy, chaotic and disorganised English which is hard for people to understand).
  3. Using the wrong kind of materials for your goals (e.g. studying newspapers or news broadcasts and expecting to get good at conversation… which is very different).
  4. Trying to improve accuracy and naturalness by studying more grammar (but that’s not how natives speak — “could you aid me in this task” is grammatical, but very unnatural… “Thanks very much” is ungrammatical, but very natural).
  5. Thinking memorising more words will make you fluent (it won’t).
  6. Living in an English speaking country and expecting that to be enough to improve (it won’t).
  7. Doing nothing (you’d be amazed at how many people I talk to who complain that they don’t improve, but are actually doing nothing to make it happen).
  8. Doing the same things, and expecting different results (if you’re not progressing in English… you need to change the things you’re doing).

Now, the fast way to improve?

Use a method which works, materials that are going to give you natural samples of English you’ll actually use, and change the way you think about English (because it’s probably wrong). I’d also add to this, work with a coach who can help guide you and show you how to fix your personal problems quickly and easily.

On the first few points (method, materials, and thinking) I’ve got a free training here that will teach you the nuts-and-bolts of improving as an intermediate or over English learner — it’s here.

Hope that helps.

Julian Northbrook

July 28, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

I work with high-level English learners speaking in business, work and day-to-day life. This is a very common problem.

There could be a couple of reasons why it happens.

But the biggest are:

  1. You haven’t learnt the language well and
  2. You’ve practised in comfortable situations.
  3. A third problem is that people simply don’t know what to say (i.e. their English is fine, but they don’t have anything to say).

Let’s break this down.

We tend to think of fluency as being one thing, but that’s not true.

Fluency is actually FIVE things.

They’re all happening in your brain together, and that creates the illusion of fluency.

The first of these things is what we call “encoding”.

You haven’t learnt the language well

Have you learnt the English you need, in a way that properly puts it into long-term memory where it can be found and used?

If you’re memorising random words from lists, that won’t work. You need to learn them on a deeper level, together whith the phrases, expressions and chunks they are commonly used in. There’s a detailed (and free) training here which will get you started with this kind of “deep” learning.

You’ve practised only in comfortable situations

Another one of the five elements is what we call ‘cognitive load’. And this is the most common reason your mind might “go blank”.

It’s like your computer. If you’ve got a hundred programmes running at once, they’re all going to struggle to run smoothly. Eventually, you get the blue-screen of death, and your computer shuts down. But if you close everything down and just let one program run, it’ll do so efficiently. Or, to extend the metaphor, “fluently”.

What this means is, if you’re not confident and you panic and get flustered, you’ll struggle to speak because your mind will be taken over by other things – the panic and the fear and the fight-or-flight response that comes with it.

There isn’t enough “RAM” left for speaking well.

A lot of the time this is caused by practise in easy, comfortable situations (like a conversation teacher or partner), but not enough is scary, real world situations (see here for an article and video I wrote about this).

The solution is to free up your brain as much as possible.

Learn English in the right way (study this free training), know WHAT to say and HOW to say it in conversation.

Then get good (and get over your fear) by using English in scary in real-world situations.

Hope that helps.

Julian Northbrook

July 27, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

Yes and no.

It’s not hard in the sense of having to learn it in the way someone learning English as a second language does. We learn our “palette” of sounds along with our first language as kids.

But there are plenty of things we mispronounce, just like, I’m sure, people in your native language.

A couple of years ago one of my clients pointed out I was pronouncing the word “taciturn” wrong (taKIturn). I’m not sure when or why I picked up the incorrect pronunciation – but of course, as soon as I realised it was wrong my pronunciation simply changed (and no, it wasn’t difficult to do).

Being a “native speaker” means being completely unconscious of the way you use language. And yes, that means unconscious (most of the time anyway) of the imperfections, too.

My speech is full of imperfections.

No excuses or explanation — because I honestly don’t see why justification is necessary.

Humans are wrong about most things most of the time. Who cares if I make a mistake with my English.

But, and this is the important part, herein lies the paradox of language learning. You go to school and English classes focus exclusively on accuracy (it’s easy to measure, after all). Yet in reality, there is no true “accurate” model of English because the English I know is a collection of my own (often flawed) experiences.

And my experience of life (and therefore English) is very different to anybody else’s experience.

Of course, the concept of a “standard English” exists.

But that’s all it is.

A concept.

As an aside, a great exercise for developing good pronunciation—particularly rhythm and good “chunking” skills—in English as a second language is “Shadowing”. I’ve got a free guide here, for anyone who wants it.

Julian Northbrook

Filed Under: Learning English
July 13, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

First, you have to be clear about what your goal is.

Because if you’re not clear about what your goal is, you’re just going to be all over the place and learning in an unstructured, messy kind of way, not really knowing what you’re doing.

I know this all too well because I was just as messy and unstructured when I was trying to learn Japanese. I eventually fixed that mess but only because I made my goals clear.

So before you start learning English any more, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What do I want to do?
  2. What countries do I want to go to and what do I want to see there?
  3. What experiences do I want to have?

You might wonder “why does this even matter?” but the point is, if you’re not clear about what exactly you want to do with your English, then you’ll never be able to get the rest right because you won’t know what to learn.

Be clear about your direction and focus on your goal. That’s my advice.

Hope that helps.

I help high-level English as second-language speakers live freer in their work and day to day life without English becoming a barrier. If that’s you, you might like to sign up for my daily English tips to speak better English.

Dr Julian Northbrook

May 17, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

One of my MEFAers made an interesting comment:

I always ask myself: am I looking for a way or an excuse?

For example, I registered MEFA almost at the end of the enrolment time. I have a two-month-old baby, who is a sleeping-time killer. And because of that I almost decided to register in the next season instead of this month. But then I asked myself if I didn’t spend the time to study, would I use it wisely? I then realised the baby is just an excuse.

Small children are a real-time killer.

Believe me.

I know.

And there are plenty of other time killers (for example, the last week I’ve lost huge amounts of time to train a new member of staff; frustrating in the short term, but an excellent investment long term).

But GaDii is very, very right:

The time that you DO have available is going to get used somehow, so the real question is… are you using it wisely, or are you wasting it?

My son was born, I went from having all the time in the world to do things to having very little time. But in truth, I got MORE done than ever before. Because now I was forced to prioritise, focus and use time wisely. No more, “I’ll do it later” because later baby would be awake and crying.

I’m not saying you must prioritise English.

But I am saying if English is important to you, and especially if your English is causing you pain and frustration… you’d be rather silly not to prioritise it.

I can help:

Dr Julian Northbrook

Filed Under: Learning English
April 8, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

Asking random people on the internet how to level up your English is about as useful as asking your aunt on Facebook why you’re sick.

It’s unlikely to fix your problem and you’ll end up frustrated with all the conflicting advice that doesn’t match you personally.

To get help that is actually customised to you and your situation, consider joining the next available MEFA group.

The place to go is here:

Or if you’re not sure if the course is right for you, send me an email ( and I’ll tell you.

Dr Julian Northbrook