Some principles on which English fluency learning is based

The self-study books in the Fluentzy series are founded on facts - and not on speculations. And here are some of these facts:

Spoken English vs. Written English

True spoken English is quite different from the kind of English you learnt at school or college. What you learnt at school or college was mostly written English, and not spoken English. Generally, at school or college, you don’t even get to learn the real difference between the two kinds of English.

Result? When you speak, you try to copy the style of written English. You start thinking in terms of written English grammar and usage... and written English vocabulary. In terms of translating... And you get lost. You try hard to complete whatever you say into ‘perfectly-formed sentences’ - because you’re under the (wrong) impression that they’re the units of speech! And you end up gasping in the middle. And you find it impossible to speak on - without faltering.

Of course, some written-English-minded people might manage to complete their spoken ‘sentences’ - after straining hard. But mind you, they wouldn’t sound natural. Instead, they’d sound phoney and highbrow. When they speak, they wouldn’t sound as if they were speaking... They’d sound as if they were reading! Yes. And what many of them say would often sound like a composition read aloud.

Broken English can’t lead you to fluent English

Suppose that a few people who can only speak broken English sit around a table and try to do speech practice in English. You see, they’ll only be able to do the speech practice in broken English. And not in fluent English — because you see, they can’t speak fluent English. And if they keep on doing this kind of speech practice for a few months, broken English becomes their habit. And not fluent English.

This is so, no matter how highly educated they are in English.

Mind you, even the presence of a teacher can’t improve the situation. No. This is because fluent English is not ‘corrected’ broken English. Broken English, however improved, is still broken English. Only, it’s a kind of ‘improved’ broken English. That’s all. But not fluent English. Fluent English is something wholly different. Totally separate.

This is one reason why classroom speech practice can’t help you achieve true fluency. (For more reasons, see the "Fluency Facts" section).

Learning by heart: Impossible

Mind you, you can’t learn by heart all (or even a small proportion of) the ‘speech-units’ that are possible in a language, and then reproduce them as and when required. There are millions and millions of them. People don’t, and can’t, speak that way. And you can’t anticipate all the contexts and situations you’ll have to speak in. And you can’t tell beforehand what kinds of questions others might ask. Or what replies you might like to give. Or how a conversation might progress.

This is one reason why ready-made sentences and cassettes won’t make you fluent. So, if you want to become fluent, you must gain the skill of producing speech spontaneously - without conscious effort.

Translation: Impossible

“Nair’s course aims to help you develop the skill of bringing out your thoughts directly as English speech without your mother-tongue holding you back, and without the translation instinct standing between your thought and speech as a block.” – The New Indian Express.

Mind you, you won’t be able to speak English fluently by translating.

You see, translator-speakers first think in their mother-tongue and then try to translate their thoughts into English. Their thoughts do not come out directly as English speech. And as long as their thoughts don’t come out directly as English speech, they can’t become fluent.

Here are three of the chief reasons:

•  The ‘structures’ of most English speech-units are not similar to the ‘structures’ of the speech-units in other languages. For example, the order in which you should arrange the elements in an English speech-unit is different from the way you do that in other languages.

•  Most of the core words, collocations and conversational expressions in English don’t have equivalents in other languages.

•  Several words, collocations and expressions in other languages don’t have equivalents in English, either.

Mind you, the effort to translate stands between your thought and your speech as a block. This takes away your attention from the ‘matter’ of your speech, and forces you to concentrate on the ‘manner’. And then you stop thinking about ‘what’ you want to say, and start paying attention to ‘how’ you say it. And then, you automatically falter, and your speech-flow automatically stops.

And you see, translated English sentences sound awkward and stilted. They don’t sound natural - like the real English spoken by native speakers of English.

Organs of speech: Not cooperative

You know, the muscles of your organs of speech are in the habit of moving and bending regularly in certain set patterns - to suit the demands of your mother-tongue. They fight shy of working in a different way - to suit the demands of the English language.

And mind you, as long as your organs of speech don’t readily move, bend and work in the way the English language demands them to, you won’t be able to speak fluent English.

Cassettes: Not helpful

Audio/Video cassettes containing ready-made sentences won’t make you fluent. No, they won’t. Of course, if you listen to them for hours and hours, you may be able to learn a few isolated sentences by heart.

Remember this: Cassettes like these contain ready-made sentences that have been edited and polished (and not naturally-occurring ones). And ready-made sentences are precisely the things that won’t help you. What you need is not the skill of reproducing ready-made sentences in stereotyped situations, but the skill of composing your speech and speaking at the same time - no matter what the situation is. The skill you must get is the skill of making up newer and newer speech-units off-hand, as you speak along... The skill of filling time with talk. In any situation - depending on the needs of the situation.

You see, spontaneous speech is always produced under pressure of time. You speak in the ‘here-and-now’. You have to connect what you’re saying now to what you’ve finished saying. At the same time, you have to be thinking about, and preparing, what you’re going to say next. You’ll be able to do all this, only if you know the techniques of ‘on-the-spot speech composition’.

Cassettes containing ready-made sentences won’t teach you these techniques. In fact, these cassettes give you a false impression: They make you think that spoken English is made up of ideal strings of complete and perfectly-formed sentences. They make you think that you’d be able to speak English if you learn a few one-line sentences. They don’t bring you face to face with such features of spontaneous speech as starting trouble, false starts, repetition of syllables and words, hesitations, pauses, pause fillers, gambits for creating planning-time, incomplete structures, unfinished word-groups, reformulations, refinements, backtracking, silent editing, etc. They don’t give you the skill of speaking ‘exploratorily’ and ‘manipulatively’.