- BLOG HOME
- All Post
I receive a lot of questions about how to speak English well. The 3 most common questions are:
These 3 questions show the problems most of you have when speaking English so I want to examine the beliefs behind these questions in the hope that discussing them helps you gain a clearer understanding of how to improve your speaking skills.
Most people learning a second or foreign language want to become fluent speakers. They want to speak English with the same amount of confidence and comfort as native speakers.
But, have you ever really thought about the meaning of fluency?
Fluency is difficult to define. According to the Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics, fluency refers to:
“ the features which give speech the qualities of being natural and normal, including native-like use of pausing, rhythm, intonation, stress, rate of speaking, and use of interjections and interruptions.”
I find this definition problematic for two reasons.
Reading on, I see there is another definition of fluency in the dictionary:“In second and foreign language teaching, fluency describes a level of proficiency in communication, which includes:
When we talk about accents, we tend to generalize. People talk about an American accent, a British accent, or an Italian accents. Yet, accents are incredibly varied and this variety exists within countries (Does a New Yorker have the same accent as a Texan); within regions (Do all people from the North of England have the same accent?); within cities and towns.
Do people from North London speak English exactly the same as people from South London?); between social classes (Do middle-class Londoners have the same accent as working-class Londoners?); between generations (Do elderly people from Edinburgh speak with the same accent as teenagers from the same city?). Also, what differences are there between members of different ethnic /socio-cultural groups within the same local area?
When we start to think deeply about accents, we realise that we have a tendency to generalise. We often have an idea about a specific accent and think that applies to all members of a linguistic group.
By thinking about the variety of accents among people who speak our first language, we should be able to understand that there are differences among speakers of every language. These differences result from a complex set of factors: age, social class, geographical location etc.
Most of us are guilty of accent discrimination; we judge people not by their actions but by their accents. But accents reveal so much about us: where we are from; which social class we grew up in. Why should we decide to disguise who we are?
Even politicians change their accents to suit their audience. There are often criticized for doing so but some studies suggest that many successful communicators do the same.
Accommodation theory states that we find a middle ground when we communicate. For example, if I have a conversation with an American, I may modify my accent slightly by reducing or dropping some of the features of my accent and adopting some of the features of my conversational partner’s accent; my conversational partner may well do the same. The result may be that we end up speaking with trans-Atlantic accents, a blend of British and American.
In other words, we tend not to discriminate against people when they speak with this accent, which allows us to concentrate of the content rather than the delivery. These accents do not reveal much background information about the speaker; there are few clues about their social origin.
Communication breakdown can occur with fluent but inaccurate speakers because the quantity and serious nature of their errors can result in confusion.
A breakdown can occur with accurate but hesitant speakers because listening to slow, deliberate English requires a great deal of patience and concentration which can lead to tiredness or frustration. Fluent speakers have to work hard to resist the temptation to interrupt and/or complete the other speaker’s utterances for them.
For many reasons, most notably the influence of the grammar-translation method on teaching approaches and curricula, speakers of second or foreign language feel the need to avoid making mistakes when they speak. This means they are often reluctant to speak or feel frustrated when their errors are noticed.
Yet, many second language learners have excessively high standards and think they should be able to use complex grammar structures found in written language in their conversational output. Many grammatical structures found in written English are rarely used in spoken English.
In other words, native speakers rarely speak in grammatically perfect utterances either. When I trained to become a teacher, I remember going for a drink with friends and found myself correcting their English. Spoken English is generally spontaneous and interactive, which means that we do not always know what we are going to say before we speak; we use formulaic phrases; we correct, clarify to express ourselves.
You may disagree with some of my opinions and beliefs in this post. That’s great – we understand more about how things work by discussing ideas.
What is important is that you think deeply about these issues and challenge your own beliefs.
Mary Jane Go has been teaching English for over 13 years. She believes that it is very important to learn English and learn it by heart. For her, it's always the right time for a dance party and that hanging out with friends is indispensable.