Idea Units and Fluency, Book 1 of the Fluentzy English fluency self study book set

Idea Units & Fluency

By Prof. Kev Nair

"The first book in the series is Idea Units and Fluency. This book gets your fluency-building efforts off to a no-nonsense start in the right direction, so that you don't have to worry about any wasted efforts"
The New Indian Express.

Please note: This book is not sold separately. It is available for sale only as part of the Fluentzy® self-study book set

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Fluency, only through idea units

You want to achieve a high level of fluency in spoken English. And this is only possible if you’re aware of certain fundamental things. So let’s start off with them.

‘Speech’ comes first, and ‘writing’, only next

You know, the first thing you should understand about a language is this: A language has two sides, like a coin. Yes, two sides. A ‘spoken’ side and a ‘written’ side.

Listen. Doesn’t a child learn to speak long before it sees writing? Hadn’t people been speaking, long before writing came? So isn’t one thing clear — that the ‘spoken’ stage of a language comes before the ‘written’ stage? Isn’t this also clear — that ‘speech’ and ‘writing’ are different things, and aren’t to be looked at or learnt in the same way?

This is true about any language. It’s true about English, too.

Don’t you get one thing now? Don’t you see why most non-native speakers of English find it hard to speak fluent English?

Non-native speakers learn English the ‘wrong’ way
By ‘non-native speakers of English’, I mean people for whom English is not their first language or mother-tongue, but a second language — or just a foreign language. You see, for people in India, English is a foreign language — but it’s also a second language. For people in several other countries, English is simply a foreign language, and not even a second language.

Most non-native speakers of English find it hard to speak English fluently, because they can’t learn English the way they learn their first language. You see, they’re born and brought up in a country where English is not spoken as the first language. And so they can only learn English in the wrong way: In a way that is just the reverse of the natural process of language acquisition. Haven’t we seen just now what the natural way is? Haven’t we seen that the natural way is to learn to speak first, and then only to learn to write? But most non-native speakers of English don’t have the opportunity of learning English in that way.

So you see, as a non-native speaker of English, you’ve been learning English in the ‘non-natural’ way — in a way that’s opposite to the natural way of language acquisition. You’ve been learning to write English first, rather than to speak it. That’s what you’ve been doing at school and college. You’ve been learning to produce written English. And the methods you had to follow never fully made you understand this: The ‘spoken’ style is quite different from the ‘written’ style.

You see, the spoken word is the basis for the written word, and not the other way round. And so spoken English is more fundamental than written English. But the non-natural way in which you had to learn English planted the wrong notion in your mind: A wrong notion that things are the other way round — that written English is more fundamental than spoken English.

So the result is this: You’re now steeped in written English. And your written English orientation has been preventing you all along from understanding one thing. It has been preventing you from understanding that spontaneous speech has to be composed differently — that is, in a way quite different from the way writing is produced. Result? You always try to speak the way you write. And you do this by trying hard to follow principles of grammar and usage as applied to writing, and not as applied to speech itself.

Is there any wonder fluency has eluded you so far?

So I want you to understand one thing here and now: When they speak spontaneously, fluent speakers apply principles of grammar and usage in a way that is different from the way they apply those principles when they write. And the spoken style has a number of devices and conventions of its own, and these devices and conventions are not derived from the written style.

Learning words alone won’t help

Now just think about this: Suppose you learn a number of English words very well — say, a nice big stock of them. Then, will you be able to speak English fluently? I’m sure you know the answer. The answer is, you won’t. You won’t be able to speak English fluently just because you’ve mastered all the common words there are. If this hadn’t been so, would speaking have been a problem? In fact, you may yourself have an excellent vocabulary. Why, even a student who has completed high school knows all the common words we use in everyday spoken English! But, is every student who completes high school able to speak fluent English? The truth is, even most post-graduates aren’t able to speak English fluently — even though they know all the English words commonly used in speech!
Why is this so? Here’s a chief reason: People who aren’t fluent try to speak in ‘words’, by trying to put individual words together. They’re not aware that this is not the right way of speaking English. The right way to speak English is to speak it in “word groups”, by putting word groups together — and to use individual words only when an individual word can do the work of a word group. This is because the real units of speech are ‘ideas’ (or ‘information’). And ideas normally get expressed in groups of words, rather than in individual words.

Bite-sized pieces of ideas
So the point you should understand is this: Natural speech comes out in units or very short pieces of ideas. And most often, these units of ideas are said and heard in groups of words. Sometimes they’re said and heard in individual words, too.

Let’s take a look at a few spoken texts, so that you can get a clear idea of all this. Here we go:

• He unlocked the front door + and we went in + and he said + I’ll be back in a minute + and he went upstairs + so I remained in the hall + and then the phone started ringing + and he shouted to me to answer it + and I picked up the receiver + and I said ‘hello’ + but the person at the other end suddenly hung up + so I replaced the receiver.

• He passed the exam + with a very high score + and he was thrilled + very pleased + and happy + and he treated us to ice-cream + the very next day.

• They were close friends + and they had similar opinions + and similar ideas + attitudes + and they’ve worked together + on several projects.

• She gave him something to eat + something soft and thick + sticky + a toffee-like thing.

• It’s a bit heavy + and so you can’t move it easily + from place to place + but it doesn’t take up much space + so you can put it in your bedroom + or in the hall.

• Actually + I don’t like that idea + though I can’t say anything against it + because I can’t give any reasons + and I don’t know why I have this feeling + but something in me tells me + that this idea may not work + and it may even achieve the opposite result + from the one we want to achieve + and that is not going to be a good thing.

Go through these five examples. Three of them contain one one-word idea unit each. Did you spot them the first time you went through the examples. If you didn’t, why don’t you try and spot them now?

How does natural speech come out?
When a child wants something, what does it say? It says: “Give it to me”. Do you think the child first learns the words ‘Give’, ‘it’, ‘to’, and ‘me’ separately, and, then connects them together? When a child doesn’t want a thing, it says: “I don’t want it”. When a child gets tired of walking, and wants to be carried, it says: “Pick me up”. Do you think the child first learns the words ‘I’, ‘don’t’, ‘want’, ‘it’, ‘pick’, ‘me’, and ‘up’ separately, and, then, connects them also together?

For the child, “Give it to me” is the same as a single word ‘givitumee’, and not four separate words. “I don’t want it” is the same as a single word ‘Aidonwantit’, and not four separate words. “Pick me up” is the same thing as a single word ‘Pickmeeyup’, and not three separate words. The child says each of these word groups as a single utterance without any gap between any two words. It doesn’t make separate utterances for each of the words in a word group. The child says each word group as a single unit — as though it were a single word.

This is what normally happens when a fluent native speaker of English speaks English. And this is what normally happens when a fluent native speaker of any other language speaks that language. Think about what happens in your own mother-tongue. Notice how you yourself speak in your own mother-tongue.

What does natural speech come out in?
From what I’ve said so far, don’t you see one thing? Normally, natural speech doesn’t come out in ‘words’. It comes out in word groups.

Strictly speaking, natural speech comes out neither in single words nor even in word-groups. Actually, it comes out in units of ideas. Of course, most often, these units of ideas get expressed through multi-word units (= word-groups) — and sometimes in single words.

Now listen: What was the child doing when it had said “Give it to me”? Wasn’t the child just giving expression to a unit of “idea” or a “thought” or a piece of “information”? The idea (or thought or information) came up in its mind, and it just made an utterance — an utterance that the child thought would express that idea (or thought or information). This was so when it had said “I don’t want it” and “Pick me up”, too.

Actually, this is always so. Children always speak in their mother tongue by uttering idea by idea, and not word by word. So do adults, and everyone who speaks their mother-tongue fluently. When they speak spontaneously, do fluent speakers consciously search through their brain for word after word? No, normally, they don’t. Do they consciously stop to think about how to string the words together? No, normally they don’t. They just say what they have in mind by using such vocabulary items as occur readily to them — spontaneously and without any conscious effort. And normally, the stretches of speech that come out happen to be in groups of words.

But how do they get this skill? ...

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