How To Be Fluent In English In 1 Month

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Interview about fluency with our co-founder

In this article, our Head Teacher, Anna sits down with her co-founder, Nick to talk about his experience of learning languages and top tips for getting fluent in English.

Q. So Nick, tell me about your language learning experience

I was terrible at languages at school.  It just wasn’t something I was interested in, but at the age of 22 I moved to Thailand to teach English for a year.  For some reason I was convinced I wanted to learn another language and for whatever bizarre reason, I ended up learning Thai.  It was a real slog, it’s such a different language and I really feel for English learners who’s native language doesn’t have Latin or Germanic roots.  I ended up staying in Thailand and teaching for about 18 months and was fluent enough to have a 30 minute phone conversation or speak with a taxi driver about the upcoming election for over an hour!  So pretty good. 

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After returning to the UK, I secured a job that didn’t start for four months so I took the opportunity to go travelling in Latin America.  I decided to learn Spanish while I was out there.  I started off by just reading textbooks and trying to say a few things but after a month of being in Spanish speaking countries and travelling around with people who could speak Spanish quite well, I hadn’t progressed very far at all.   

One day, I parted company with my friends and was off on my own.  I went to the bus station and tried to buy a ticket from Colombia to Ecuador and really struggled.  I’d planned what to say, but when it came to the moment of truth, it was a disaster.

I’d arranged to stay with a Spanish teacher and her family for a week in Ecuador and she met me at the bus station.  She couldn’t speak any English, I couldn’t really speak any Spanish and it was awful!  We just kept saying our names and pointing at ourselves (and then I got in her car and hoped for the best!)

The week of intensive learning only involved four hours of classes in the morning then I was free to do whatever I wanted to.  So I just read my text book and tried to get ready for the class the next day.  I’ll be honest, she wasn’t the best teacher and it took a while to get things moving.  At the end of the week, I left to carry on my travels.  I got into a taxi and had a twenty-five minute fluent conversation with the driver. What a contrast to my experience at the bus station just a week before!

Q. Which language do you think is hardest to speak fluently between Thai, Spanish and English?

They’re all so different.  I’d say Spanish is the easiest.  Thai is difficult for English speakers to get started with and build vocabulary. English is hard because it’s not a phonetic language, so being clear with your pronunciation can be hard. 

What is fluency in speech?

I really struggled with the concept of fluency when I was learning Thai.  Fluency is a fluid concept and it’s often confused with having a native level of language competency.  By some people’s standards, many native English speakers aren’t fluent!  

For me, fluency is simply that you can communicate clearly and comfortably (and without having to refer to your language resources).  Essentially, that you have enough vocabulary and grammar to deal with the situation you are in.  So, you can be conversationally fluent in daily life, but not fluent for example, at the doctors. 

In the B2 course, we discuss the difference between fluency and accuracy.  That’s also important.  You can be fluent and more than capable in a situation, but perhaps not using perfect spoken English.  That’s okay.  That’s true for many native English speakers too. 

Q. What is the difference between fluent English and perfect spoken English?

Well, as I mentioned in our B2 Course, the difference is fluency vs accuracy.  They are both important, albeit, I’d suggest fluency is more important for most people.  

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Achieving a baseline of fluency is important as a foundation to your language to build from.  Once you have this, it’s interesting as you start to realise where you have gaps in your vocabulary and ability to construct a sentence.  That’s a great place to be because you can meaningfully build your language in a way that suits your communication style.  

As you progress, you can start to build your accuracy by filling in the gaps as you find them or preparing in advance. 

Q. How long does it take to learn English fluently?

Well, we’re all still learning aren’t we!?!  I think the more important question is ‘how long does it take to get the confidence and flexibility in English to speak clearly in the situations that you use English in. That’s a more helpful question for English As A Second Language learners. 

For that, I’d say that realistically, you can get to a very competent level for daily life in a month of intensive learning.  That was my experience with Spanish – but it all comes down to English speaking practice in genuine, real-time exchanges.  Not sitting in a classroom.  You have to produce language.

Q. Can you give any advice about how to gain confidence in speaking English?

There are two main pieces of advice I’ve given to others that have worked well.  

Firstly, have fun!  Just don’t worry about getting things wrong.  Any worries and anxieties you have will hold you back, so just put them in the bin on day one. 

Secondly, imagine a stereotype of a person from your target language, one you like and would like to speak like and then literally just pretend you’re that person.  Act the part!  It will really help to take you out of your native language and into English.  Your pronunciation, speaking confidence and clarity will improve and it ties back to point one about having fun.

Q. How long did it take you to become fluent?

Again, this depends on your perspective of fluency.  As I said, after 3 weeks of reading a textbook I was absolutely useless at Spanish.  One week later with daily speaking practice and some concentrated learning (I’d say probably 6 hours a day combined total) I was fluent enough to speak with the taxi driver about day-to-day activities – without pausing, getting stuck or referring to a dictionary.  With concentrated effort, could I have gotten a lot further in my first month, yes, definitely.  

Once I was over that first important step, I could start learning on the go, realising where my gaps were in my natural conversation and start to work on them. 

After 3 months, I went on a trip for three days and our guide couldn’t speak English.  So I spent three days only speaking about the trip, culture, etc, in Spanish quite comfortably and fluently – not to mention getting on the trip to begin with.

Change your accent and work on your ESL accent in the conversation club

Q. Can you tell our readers how to be fluent in English in 1 month?

Now our readers will have a huge range of language backgrounds.  But this is the key take away from my experience.  Throwing yourself in the deep end and having fun, genuine conversations is the only way to achieve fluency.  You have to overcome any fears and anxiety and put in the time, talking and listening in English.  Production of language in real-time is essential and it’s a skill you can only master with practice.  

That’s why the ELAN Community and Conversation Club is such an important element of our courses. 

 

Q. What are your top tips on how to speak English fluently? 

I’ll just repeat my top tips on how to speak English fluently from above as I think they are so important.  There are two main pieces of advice I’ve given to others that have worked well.  

Firstly, have fun!  Just don’t worry about getting things wrong.  Any worries and anxieties you have will hold you back, so just put them in the bin on day one. 

Secondly, imagine a stereotype of a person from your target language, one you like and would like to speak like and then literally just pretend you’re that person.  Act the part!  It will really help you with taking you out of your native language and into English.  Your pronunciation, speaking confidence and clarity will improve and it ties back to point one about having fun. 

Q. Anything else you’d like to share with our students?

Just one thing.  Remember how lucky you are to be learning the world’s global language.  You have resources everywhere!  

When I was learning Thai there were only three small textbooks, one dictionary and the iPhone hadn’t been invented yet! 

Additionally, while I was fluent in Thai and Spanish, the last time I spoke either was in 2011. At the time there weren’t many resources to practice with or much reason to maintain the languages outside of the potential of a future holiday!  So I’m sad to say I’m really not very fluent in either language any more.  I’m a good case study of why people from English speaking countries are so bad at languages!

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