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Seven Steps to Fluency

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How to Speak English Fluently

Seven Steps You Must Take to Achieve Fluency

So, you want to speak English fluently, but you’re not sure how. You’ve been studying for years, and still haven’t reached the level of fluency you imagined.

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

You ask your English teacher, “How can I speak English fluently?”

And they respond:

“Watch movies in English.”

Unfortunately, if you’re like most of my students, you’ve tried this advice out on your own and it didn’t help improve your fluency.

Why doesn’t it work?

Well, first of all, this type of advice isn’t specific enough. I’m sure you’ve watched hundreds of movies in English and you probably didn’t learn much besides a few phrases. When you watch a movie or consume any type of media, it’s important to go in with a structured plan.

Planning is crucial if you want to speak English fluently. You must map out:

  • What you’re going to learn
  • How you plan on learning it
  • How you plan on testing whether you learned the material

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I get excited when I talk about language acquisition because many of you feel stuck.

At this point, you feel like giving up on English.

You’ve studied English for years. You’ve had to take English class in school. You’ve paid for private English lessons. You have been motivated and driven to speak English because you know it will help you make more money at work, gain access to a better education and meet people around the world.

But still, you’re not where you want to be.

But don’t give up yet.

It turns out that there are seven things you must do if you expect to reach an advanced level of English fluency. If you don’t follow these seven steps, you will find yourself stuck in English Purgatory forever.

Oh no!

Not to worry, you came to the right place.

Today, I’m going to show you step-by-step exactly how you can speak more like a native speaker so you can say what you want, when you want.

Lets’s jump in.

Step 1 – Identify Your Motivation

If you’re at a point in your English language learning journey where you have lost motivation to continue to learn, then it’s crucial for you to rediscover the reason why you are studying English. When you have a strong motivation to learn a language then you will be much less likely to quit when it gets hard.

Look.

The road to fluency is challenging. There are going to be times when you want to quit. However, if you have a strong motivation to learn the language, it’s going to be much less likely that you will give up.

Let me give you an example of a bad motivator.

When I moved to Korea, one of the first things I did was sign up for a Korean language course. I figured since I was going to be there for a year, I might as well learn the language.

What was my motivation?

I wanted to pick up girls.

A more immature version of me ten years ago in Korea.

That’s it. That’s the best motivation my 25-year-old-self could come up with.

Now, for some, picking up women may be a strong motivator, but for me, it didn’t work. Soon after, I decided to focus on women that could speak English.

According to Dan Pink’s book Drive, financial motivation is no longer an adequate way to motivate people in business. He identified three main criteria needed to motivate people:

  • autonomy – makes you feel independent and in control
  • mastery – something you can get better at over time and feel a sense of accomplishment
  • purpose – you do something that feels important

In other words, the best type of motivator is one where you feel like you are in control,  you have a purpose and you feel a sense of mastery as you progress.

Also, notice how money, or, in my case, girls, is not up on Dan Pink’s list of strong motivators. The biggest lesson to learn here is that we are motivated to complete a task — even when it’s difficult — if it’s something that is strongly connected to our own passion and purpose.

You can check out Dan Pink’s TED talk on the subject here.

Here’s an example of a bad motivator:

I’m learning English because my boss at work says I have to learn it.

Here’s an example of a better motivator:

I’m learning English so I can make more connections with people around the world. This will help expand both my mind and my business.

The better motivator satisfies the three areas of motivation we need to continue to perform a challenging task:

  • Autonomy – They are going to study English out of personal passion, not because they are ordered to learn.
  • Mastery– They are studying English so they can expand their mind and their business. Notice how there isn’t an end goal. They will never completely know all of English”, but instead “expand” their knowledge.
  • Purpose – This person wants to expand not only their mind, but also their business. So, while they are fulfilled intellectually, it also serves a purpose for business.

You want to have a motivation that leads to you being a better version of your current self. A better version of your current self may involve going to a better school, getting a better job or making new friends. Stop thinking about the ways that the English language is measured, like a test score, but instead think of it in terms of how it can improve the quality of your life.

If you’re still not sure of your motivation, Benny Lewis at Fluent in Three Months wrote a great article called 12 reasons Why You Should Study a Foreign Language that you can check out here.

If you want to identify your own motivation, I’ve created a handy PDF that you can fill out here as well.

But identifying your motivation is just the first step.

After you have found your motivation and rediscovered why you are learning the language, you are ready to…

Step 2 – Identify Your Weaknesses

Once you assess your motivation, you must organize your future study habits around that motivation. If you want to make more friends from around the world, then you will have to focus on your listening and speaking comprehension. Or, if you need English to write more emails for your business, then you should focus on improving your grammar and writing.

How can you identify your weaknesses?

The quick answer is to find an experienced teacher who can assess your reading, writing, listening and speaking levels and provide you with a future plan of action.

But let me show you an example…

For this exercise, I will focus on speaking, in particular, pronunciation.

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You begin to speak to a native speaker. The words come out and you think they sound fine. When you’re done, the listener smiles and says, “Sorry, I don’t understand.”And you leave the situation frustrated. It’s okay to feel frustrated from time to time, but you must use that frustration and turn it into motivation to get better. Instead of complaining about your pronunciation, assess your performance. Decide where you need to improve. You aren’t incorrectly pronouncing every single sound in the English language. Most likely there are a few sounds you have trouble hearing and articulating.

 

 

If you’re interested in more pronunciation tips, you can check out an excellent article here from 5 Minute Language Girl.

 

 

 

Again, no matter what area of English you wish to improve, find a way to measure your current ability level so you can map out a plan for improvement.

I have to be honest…

Most students skip this next step because it’s the most uncomfortable. When I first started studying Japanese, this was my least favorite part.

Step 3 – Record Yourself

There’s a big difference between how you see yourself and how others see you.

Do you remember the first time you heard your own voice recorded?

You probably hated it. I always thought I had a deep and masculine voice until I heard it recorded. This is because of these little bones in the middle of your ear called ossicles. According to Kat Goldbaum at Live Science, “Your ossicles vibrate a little bit whenever you encounter an acoustic stimulus, but your own voice will always sound loud (because of how close your mouth is to your ears), so the ossicles vibrate more when you talk…For this reason, you may find that a recording of your voice sounds much higher to you than what you’re used to hearing when you speak.”

So, on tape, we sound a bit higher than we think we do.

It’s the same if we record ourselves on video.

In life, you only see yourself from one angle. Most of you only see yourself when you face a mirror. There are many things you’ve never seen yourself do (unless you record yourself). You’ve never seen yourself walk away or laugh at a joke. However, when you start to tape yourself, you see all the different angles. You glimpse the complete range of physical attributes that both your friends and family experience.

And it’s a bit unsettling to know that the way we always imagine how we look and sound to others is different than reality. 

So, what does this all mean?

It means when you learn another language you are forced to analyze yourself on a deeper level. What we think and hear in the moment is different than what actually happens. Therefore, it’s crucial for you to record your voice so you can hear how you actually sound to others. Yuliya Geikhman at Fluent U back this up by saying,

“One way to tell if all your practice is working is to record yourself with a camera. Use a camera and not just a sound recorder because it’s important to see how you speak, not only hear it.”

I know it may be uncomfortable.

I know it may be painful.

However, when you are aware of how you sound and how you move without the filter of yourself and the moment, you gain valuable information that can be used to improve not just your English abilities, but your interpersonal skills.

If you want to speak English fluently, this next step is of paramount importance.

Step 4 – Set Measurable Goals

Most people start with setting goals, but I saved them for step four.

Why?

You need to understand why you are pushing your goals and accurately assess your current ability level before you can move on to set effective goals that will lead to your future success. (Download and fill out the PDF here if you haven’t done so yet)

You can fill out your goals in the 7 Steps to English Fluency PDF here.

It’s important that you have identified your motivators, pinpointed your weaknesses and assessed your current ability level so you can set effective goals.

“Yeah, yeah, I know how to set goals,” you’re probably saying to yourself.

Well, I got some bad news for you. If you’re anything like my students…

Your goals suck.

And I say that with as much love as possible.

Your goals suck.

Here’s the most common goal I hear from most of my students:

“I want to speak English fluently.”

This is one of the worst goals possible. I will go into more detail in a future blog post about setting goals, but for now, let me put it simply, this goal isn’t measurable.

Are you going to wake up one day and have perfect pronunciation and know every word in the English language?

You must create goals that you can measure. There’s a famous quote:


Many intermediate and advanced English language learners struggle to improve because they don’t have specific and measurable goals. If you watch a bunch of movies and float around the Internet for hours every day without a clear purpose, then you won’t get very far in your fluency. You must act deliberately and those actions must be a reflection of your short-term and long-term goals.

How can you measure English fluency?

The best advice I can give to students is to prepare for an English language proficiency exam. I used to teach TOEFL prep. Now, to be honest, I didn’t want to teach TOEFL because, like most teachers, I felt testing was a poor way to measure the capabilities of a student. Over time, I loved teaching TOEFL.

Here’s the deal.

A test is a clear assessment of a student’s language proficiency. Language is so elusive. We never really know when we “know” the language. However, many intelligent researchers, professors and curriculum developers came together and developed exams, like the TOEFL, to address that very problem. I believe TOEFL is one of many language proficiency tests that can help you focus on improving your English proficiency. When your goal changes from:

I want to speak English fluently. 

I want to earn an 80 on the TOEFL exam in three months.

The second goal focuses your brain. You have a specific test, score and date that you can focus on for the next three months. You can create a schedule, take practice exams and map out the exact strategy you will need to implement to improve your score.

Best of all, when you’re finished, you get a score at the end. You get written proof that you achieved some level of fluency, whatever it may be.

When you study for an exam, you take a very big subject, the English language, and narrow it down and make it more specific. The more specific you are with your goals, the more likely you are to achieve them. As Sabina Alispahić states,

“Goal specificity refers to how clearly a goal informs the performer precisely what he is to do. The more specific or explicit the goal, the more precisely performance is regulated. High goal specificity is achieved mainly through quantification or enumeration. Thus it reduces variance in performance, providing the individual control of performance.”

In other words, you want to have specific goals that you can measure. The more specific, the better.

So, we are getting closer to fluency. Once you…

  • Step 1 – Identified your motivation
  • Step 2 – Identified your weaknesses
  • Step 3 – Recorded (measured) your speaking
  • Step 4 – Set measurable goals.

You must…

Step 5 – Adopt a Growth Mindset

You’re going to fail.

Failing is part of the process.

When you fail, you have a choice, you can either:

A. Quit and tell yourself a story.
B. Accept that mistakes and failures are part of the learning process. You see English not as an end, but as a continual process.

Choice A reflects someone with a fixed mindset.

Choice B reflects someone with a growth mindset.

What’s the difference between the two?

I will give you an example of a time when I failed.

Back to when I failed to learn Korean.

I failed to learn Korean for a lot of different reasons, motivation was only a small part of it. Another reason was because I didn’t like the language learning process.

I didn’t like to be wrong, and I was wrong a lot.

Of course, it’s natural to make mistakes when you first learn a language, but I didn’t like the feeling of constantly being wrong.

To put it bluntly, I felt stupid.

And, worst of all, I felt like my lack of comprehension in Korean was a reflection of my own intelligence. Since I couldn’t fluently speak Korean and pronounce every sound correctly within just three months I was a complete failure.

This is the worst type of mindset possible.

And It turns out I’m not alone.

There are many people who approach new endeavors with a fixed mindset, when, in reality, a growth mindset is crucial for success in any new endeavor.

Carol Dweck, founder of the Growth and Fixed Mindset dichotomy explains:

FIXED MINDSET
“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.”

GROWTH MINDSET
“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.”

You, the English language learner, must understand and anticipate that you don’t know everything.

You don’t know everything.

You’re going to make mistakes.

Anticipate them because they will happen.

You are going to say the wrong thing and feel embarrassed. That’s okay. It’s part of the process.

If you encounter failure and shut down, you will lose. If you tell yourself a story explaining why you failed, you will lose. If you make excuses, you will lose.

It is always your fault. This is crucial. I don’t mean you should beat yourself up and hate yourself for not learning the language. I mean that you must take responsibility for your own actions. Every failure is another step in the learning process.

If you adopt a growth mindset you will face new challenges head on. You will face obstacles and, if you fail, that’s okay, you will get up and try again, only better than before because you learned from your previous. Here’s a chart outlining the difference of the growth vs. fixed mindset.

If you want to know which mindset you currently operate in, you can download the quiz here.

One of the best ways to develop a growth mindset is to imagine the struggles you will face in the future. According to Laura Radar in her excellent article Goal Setting for Students, “Students should make a list of things that may threaten the successful achievement of their goals and what they can do to remove those threats.”

Anticipate the roadblocks in the future and plan on ways to overcome them.

You can write them all down in our Seven Steps to Fluency PDF download here (It’s much shorter than this blog, haha).

If you made it this far, great!

It means you are motivated to speak like a native English speaker.

And, as you already know, motivation is crucial if you plan to succeed in your quest for fluency. But you need to follow these seven steps, and this next one is important:

Step 6- Find the Voice You Want, and Copy It

I know it may sound weird, but I’m serious.

I want you to pick a famous person, listen to them in a movie or interview and then try to copy what they say and how they say it. This is all about sounding like a native speaker. If you want to sound like a native speaker, then you have to pick one particular native speaker you want to sound like and copy their voice.

Everyone has a unique way of saying certain words. It’s part of our identity. Most students want to speak perfect English, but there’s one problem with that:

Native speakers don’t speak perfect English.

Natives speak English fluently.

I’ll say that again.

Native speakers don’t speak English perfectly, they speak English fluently.

What’s the difference?

In my opinion, you become fluent in a language when you craft the language to create your own identity as you speak it. A big way that we create our own identity is in the way we use language. There’s an excellent video on Youtube video from the Nerdwriter called How Donald Trump Answers a Question

This is by far and away the best video to help you learn how to get a better grasp on how native speakers use the English language.

Why?

Well, Donald Trump has a certain way of speaking. He uses short, punchy words. He tends to use strong words at the end of sentences to evoke emotional responses from the listener. The point is that each native speaker of any language has a certain way of using their native tongue that is connected to their own identity. One of the beautiful things about learning a new language is that you can become a new person.

How liberating.

This idea of copying people is not new. Tony Robbins is a motivational speaker for business entrepreneurs. He constantly tells people that if they want to be successful they must emulate successful people. According to an article in   Wiki How,

“Emulate the habits of successful people so that you too get positive results. Successful people have a certain way of doing things and if you copy these habits, they will become ingrained in you and eventually become second nature. For example, talking a certain way or interacting with other people can be habits that lead to certain successes.”

So, pick someone to copy. You don’t have to stay on one person, you can mix it up. You just want to get used to their mannerisms and the way that they speak so you know how different native speakers craft their identity based on language. I don’t recommend copying Donald Trump, but choose whomever you’d like. If you want to see the step-by-step process I use to emulate famous people in Japanese you can watch this video.

I don’t recommend copying Donald Trump, but choose whomever you’d like. If you want to see the step-by-step process I use to emulate famous people in Japanese you can watch this video.

Just to recap what we’ve learned so far before we get to the 7th and final step of being a native speaker:

  • Step 1 – Identified your motivation
  • Step 2 – Identified your weaknesses
  • Step 3 – Recorded (measured) your speaking
  • Step 4 – Set measurable goals.
  • Step 5 – Adopt a growth mindset
  • Step 6 – Copy a native

You’ve come a long way.

Stay focused. 

One last step fo you to take befre you can speak English fluently…

Step 7- Learn Vocabulary Specific and Relevant to your Life

According to Lingholic, most native speakers have an active vocabulary of about 20,000 words. You, the English language learners at the intermediate to advanced level of English, have somewhere between 5000-10,000 words in your active vocabulary. Once you get to more advanced levels of English, studying vocabulary gets more complicated. You know that you need to know more vocabulary, but you’re not sure which words to study.

Some students begin to study isolated idioms and phrasal verbs, but that could take you hundreds of thousands of hours to study words or phrases you hardly ever hear and never use.

The first step is to become more aware of the words and phrases you still don’t know but are relevant to your life.

If someone says something to you that you don’t understand while you’re at work, write it down, study it and then the next time you hear the word you won’t be confused. Much of language acquisition has to do with recognizing patterns.

If you recognize the patterns of vocabulary in your own life, both what you hear and what you want to say on a regular basis then you will know what to study. Once you know what to study, then you can use that information set a study schedule and watch your vocabulary grow.

Success fuels motivation.

If you don’t see yourself grow in the language, then you won’t want to continue to study.

If you’re still not sure what vocabulary to study, I’d recommend studying root words. Root words are the small combination of letters in a lot of other words. For example, the word biology has a root word in it.

Bio

Bio means life.

If you know that bio means life, then you might be able to figure out the meanings of other words without looking in a dictionary. Words like:

Also, in the word biology is a suffix. A suffix is the little combination of letters that go at the end of a word. In this case

logy is a suffix that makes a noun which means the study of.

physiology
astrology
psychology

As you can see, root words are powerful tools you can use to grow your vocabulary by thousands of words in just a fraction of a time.

We, at Vocabulary Ninja, specialize in root words and we will share more about some of our vocabulary building programs in the future.

That’s it. (Finally, right?) 

I hope you found these seven steps helpful. If you want a worksheet so you can put these seven steps in action and start on your journey to fluency, you can download here for free.

And if you download that PDF, I have a secret Bonus Tip I only share in the download, it’s a small tip, but crucial for your future success as an English speaker.

Is there anything I missed? Do you disagree with any of my recommendations? I look forward to hearing your feedback in the comments section below.

-Josh (aka Vocabulary Ninja)

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