September 20, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

Using filler words (i.e., “umm”, “ahh”, “kinda”, or “really”) when you’re speaking English as a second language could mean a couple of things.

In one sense, you can think of these filler words as a processing lag where you’ve gone ahead and your brain’s trying to keep up with you. And in order to do that, your brain will buy you some time by using “umm”s and “ahh”s.

But in another sense, when you do this TOO often, it becomes a fixed habit in your speech.

And it can be quite frustrating when you say it, but there are two things you can do to stop using filler words. These are:

  1. Notice when you use filler words and… use them less.
  2. Slow down when speaking.

And the first one is quite contradictory to what I teach my coaching clients (i.e., focusing too much on what you’re saying). But if your goal is to lessen your use of “umm”s and “ahh”s in your English conversation, monitor when you use them, spot them, and break them. This way, you can consciously reduce using filler words.

In fact, this is what I did when I first started recording things. I listened to some of the recordings I did and heard myself say the word “kinda” a lot. Way too much that it was horrifying! I even have the same habit in Japanese where I use the word “nanka” in conversations too. But I became conscious of this habit and over time, I actively reduced how I use “kinda” whenever I speak. So don’t feel bad if you can’t immediately reduce your use of filler words. It is a slow process.

And the other thing you can do to stop using filler words is… slow down. You’ve really got to slow down so you can reduce the processing load in your brain. That way, you’ll be able to catch up to it and no longer feel the need to use filler words. Additionally, you have to know the subject of your conversation. Slowing down can buy you some time to think… but you need a base where you can pull up information for your conversation.

And again, do these two things and try not to overthink speaking in English. Be confident and just not give a shit about what people think.

But if you want to speak English like how native speakers do, you can download the free guide I created. You can go here if you’re interested.

Hope that helps.

Dr Julian Northbrook

September 16, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

The honest answer is that you’re probably focused TOO much on grammar rules.

You’ve spent too much time studying it, so you’re overly reliant on it. And it’s not really your fault… especially if you learned English by focusing on grammar rules.

But speaking English is more than just knowing grammar rules. Most of us native English speakers don’t default to computing sentences. We don’t learn it by using individual words to sound natural. Instead, we store large blocks of language (or what I call “chunks”, which I talk more about in this video) in our long-term memory.

And if we feel the need to say something in English, we just pull out these chunks of words and naturally speak in wholes.

See, grammar rules don’t really explain how we native speakers sound so natural. Kind of like how we usually say the sentence “could you help me with this?” instead of “would you aid me on this task?” – both are equally grammatically correct, but the latter sounds very weird, while the former sounds natural.

See the difference?

So instead of focusing ONLY on grammar, use English as a system of high-frequency, highly natural chunks instead. And once you’re good at this, your fluency and naturalness in English will just follow along.

And to get you started with this, I put together a free guide on how you can speak like a native English speaker by doing proper “chunking”. Go here if you’re interested.

Hope that helps.

Dr Julian Northbrook

Filed Under: Speaking English
September 15, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

The big problem here is simply that you’re too focused on words (and probably grammar) – but that’s NOT what you should be focused on for speaking.

Let me explain: what matters for speaking well is how you combine the words you’ve got into nativelike chunks of English.

And this is true of remembering words, too.

We used to think native speakers had grammar rules in their head, and that they combined these with words to make sentences… but this never made much sense. Speaking like this, we shouldn’t be able to speak fluently because the brain’s RAM (working memory) simply isn’t that good. Using grammar and words, we’d speak slowly and awkwardly (like most non-native speakers who have learned to speak in this way). Also, we shouldn’t sound natural simply because most “grammatical” English isn’t natural – “make a picture” is grammatical, and so is “let’s try it”. But both sound awkward (we say “take a picture” and “let’s give it a go”.

This is because native speakers speak in chunks.

So if you also want to sound fluent and natural? That’s how you need to speak, too.

Learning in this way will make it much, much easier to recall words in conversation because they’re better connected to the rest of your English in your mind.

When you try to learn English as individual words and ignore how they combine with other words, it’s like having a pile of lego blocks with no instructions for the thing you’re trying to make. All the lego blocks are there: but they’re just a random mess of bits.

The easiest way to do this is to learn in chunks right from the beginning.

And I have a free training here that will show you how to do that.


Dr. Julian Northbrook

September 14, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

I created the first video on YouTube about using Shadowing for English as far as I know, so I think I’m definitely the right person to answer this question 🙂

What I’ll write here is a greatly updated shadowing guide (taken from my free ‘Good Shadowing Guide’).

First, shadowing is great exercise. But the way most people use it is kinda wrong, and so they don’t get the results they expect.

Here’s how to make it work for you:

Step 1: Understand the 5 Elements of Fluency

Have a look at this diagram:

Shadowing is just one of the exercises my clients use to develop the 4th Element of Fluency: Motor Skills.

True fluency in English is a combination of 5 elements working together. First, you have to ‘encode’ the blocks of English you need in subconscious memory. Next, you organise these into topics in your mind. Your English has to be properly “activated” to prevent translating from your first language, as well as that slow feeling when you try to speak…

Motor Skill is the physical aspect of fluency — this is all about your mouth and face muscles moving correctly, with the right rhythm and quality. Again, shadowing is one of the important exercises we use to develop this part of speech.

Finally, fluent English also requires you to reduce “cognitive load”. This is a technical term, but it is similar to your computer’s RAM — if you have a lot of software programs open at once, your computer will run slowly and overheat. Speaking English is the same.

Step 2: Is Shadadowing the right exercise for you?

Shadowing is a powerful exercise … but only if used correctly.

Many people say to me:

“Julian, I’m doing Shadowing but I’m not getting fluent – why?”

The answer is always the same: they’re using it incorrectly. It’s like they’re trying to use a screwdriver to put in a nail… when what they should be using is a hammer.

What Shadowing Is:

Shadowing is used to develop physical fluency in English to sound smooth, fluent and easy to understand. But that’s all it’s useful for.

What shadowing is definitely not:

Shadowing is not a method, and it is not a “magic pill”.

Just doing shadowing will not make you master English. This is like taking painkillers for a headache when actually you have a brain tumour and need surgery (this happened to my friend). Different problem, different solution. If your problem is related to one of the other ‘Elements of Fluency’, you will need a different exercise to improve fastest.

Step 3: How to “Shadow”

Shadowing is fun and Rinse and Repeat easy to do. All you need are high-quality materials with a natural audio version (don’t use the audio from textbooks, as this isn’t natural English). My Extraordinary English Speakers use the ones I give them every week.

Once you have this, follow these simple steps:

  1. Study your materials. Aim to understand 100%.
  2. Listen very carefully to the way the speaker “chunks” his or her speech — listen to how the words are crushed together, the pauses, intonation, rhythm and the way the speaker speeds up and slows down.
  3.  With the script in front of you, listen to the audio. Simultaneously mimic the speaker. Again, pay special attention to the things mentioned above. Try to match your speech perfectly to the speaker.
  4. When you feel comfortable with the script, try shadowing using the audio alone. Don’t try to memorise the English — just focus on the rhythm, flow and ‘chunking’ of what the speaker is saying.
    Then it’s just a case of rinsing and Repeating.

There is no correct amount of time to do this. Just do it for a few minutes each day, spending as much (or as little) time on each of your materials as you need to feel comfortable with it.

But here are some additional tips to make it even more effective:

Step 4: Don’t say every word 3 — “Chunk” it

People who pronounce every individual word carefully are very difficult for native speakers to understand.


Because native speakers are not speaking or listening using individual words and grammar rules like you were taught in school.

How native speakers really speak

Native speakers store blocks of words called ‘chunks’ in long term memory. This allows us to speak fluently because we don’t have to ‘compute’ everything we say like a mathematician working on solving complex equations. This works two ways: we can only listen in a fluent, chunked way if YOU speak in a fluent chunked way.

This is why something like “make a picture” sounds awkward and unnatural (yes; it is grammatical) but “take a picture” sounds natural.

Practise “chunked” speech with shadowing

Pay close attention to chunking when shadowing. It will make you much easier to understand, and your friends will thank you for it.

Step 5: Understand that Native Speakers don’t speak ‘Fast’

Do you believe natives speak fast?

Well, It’s not true.

We don’t speak fast… or at least, not all (or most) of the time. But we do use the speed of our voice to add meaning to what we’re saying. When a speaker wants to convey how excited they are or make it dramatic, they will speed up. When they are emphasising a point or talking about something sad, they will slow down. They will use long pauses for effect.

Shadowing forces you to pay attention and copy this: which is one of the reasons I have my clients use the exercise regularly.

Chunks Sound Fast… but they aren’t

Remember: native speakers speak in chunks. When we say something like, “let”s give it a go” we naturally blend all the sounds together, and it is pronounced as a single unit. When we say, “let’s try to do it” (not a chunk), we don’t blend the sounds. This is a common feature of chunks — the more frequent they are, the stronger the blending. As I said before, you need to pay attention to this.

Step 6: If you’re finding 5 Shadowing hard…

Shadowing is an intensive exercise, and it should make you tired physically (your mouth and face muscles). It should also make you mentally tired.

But shadowing shouldn’t be difficult.

If you are finding it difficult, you probably need to do other exercises to develop the other 4 Elements of Fluency.

For example, if you haven’t done the “Chunk Encoding” part right (the 1st Element of Fluency), you will find it very difficult to keep up with the speaker, and will make mistakes and say things wrong.

This is the same in real conversation If you make mistakes or say unnatural things, you probably need to focus on encoding first. If you translate in your head in conversation or find your English feels slow and ‘asleep’, you need to work on activation. If you panic or are stressed when speaking, you need to work on reducing cognitive load. If your English gets confused and messy, it’s because it is not properly organised in your brain.

In a nutshell: you need to use the right exercises for your specific problems.

If you found this guide useful and want to go further

If you want to download and keep this guide, I created an illustrated pdf here (it’s free).

To go further into fluency, and how to improve as a high-intermediate learner I created this free training. It’ll teach you the key changes you need to make to the way you learn to see real improvement.

Hope this helps.

Julian Northbrook

Filed Under: Speaking English
September 13, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

The reason why most native English speakers aren’t particularly impressed when you speak English is because… they just don’t care.

It’s exactly the same reason why they’re not that impressed when you manage to get dressed in the morning or tie your shoelaces.

Speaking English to most native English speakers is just something that you should do.

Even in other countries where English is widely spoken, it’s just generally accepted that you speak English. They won’t look at you, thinking, “Oh wow this person speaks English very well. They achieved something incredible!”. No, they won’t. They’re just looking at you, thinking, “I’m going to talk to this person.”.

Most native speakers just don’t think of speaking English as an impressive thing. It’s because, in native English-speaking cultures, language learning is not something we do.

Again, speaking English is just the normal thing to do. And you can be critical of this and think what you want, but this is neither negative nor positive. That’s just how native English culture is.

But of course, it’s different when you’re in a non-native English country. People in countries where they put a great time and effort to learn English tend to see proficiency in English with a sense of achievement. Again, that’s because it’s a part of your culture doesn’t mean it’s a part of native English culture.

If you need some help in speaking English the way native speakers do, you can start with the one-hour free training that I created. You’ll learn the 5 key changes my best clients make to improve their English as higher-level English learners. You can go to this link if this interests you.

Hope this helps.

Dr Julian Northbrook

September 9, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

It’s not that you can’t speak English well (despite having good grades in school)… it’s because you’re probably overthinking it.

You see, what you learn in school is quite different from what you actually use in real life. In school, they taught you a sort of method that forces this kind of
very slow, conscious, careful processing of English learning.

But learning English is really just a case of balancing focused intensive learning and relaxed English usage. And again, the keyword here is BALANCE.

See, if you’re just intent on thinking that “examination is king”, then you’re always just going to have that habit. You’re always going to think about your grades… and that’s very counterproductive.

And, you know, this type of habit is especially true in Asian contexts as well. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms I have about the way schools in Japan approach “speaking” (which I honestly think isn’t speaking at all) is their scripted “speaking exercises”. I mean, sure, it’s useful in some way, but if you’re going to consistently rely on these exercises, your brain is always going to look for that crutch. Your brain’s always going to need that help to speak English… whilst worrying about your grades in English at the same time.

But anyway, the point here is… you need to understand why you feel like your English isn’t getting any better. Are you just focusing on your intensive learning and your grades? Or are you just using English in your relaxed time and doing nothing else?

What you should do is learn which part of your learning method you’re lacking… then fix it.

Now, if you want to learn the proper way to balance your learning routine and how to fix it, you can start with the one-hour free training I made.

Hope that helps.

Dr Julian Northbrook