Canada Association of Tourism Employees

English As A Second Language: Fluency Ideas

Do you need to think in English to speak fluently?

Someone recently asked me if it was necessary to think in English in order for non-English speakers to learn to speak fluently. We often tell our students that it is important, but we don’t explain why. I had just finished my new module “Build Your Fluency in English” for an eLearning platform so the timing was perfect!

eLearning module design

It’s worth noting that in designing the module, breaking down my previously personal intuitive instructions, building the elements into a sequential program, creating step-by-step instructions and graduated exercises into tools for building language skills, I have these Processes I use daily with students better understood. Creating eLearning modules has been a great teacher for me to increase my confidence in my methods and to simplify those methods for ease of use in modules with self access. I would like to emphasize that the combination of eLearning with a coaching element brings the best results for me in terms of accelerated language development.

Back to the topic of fluency itself

Let’s look at the term “liquid” first. When someone tells me “I need better language skills for my job”, I first check to what extent their English communication is not working for them. Some typical responses I’ve received from new customers are:

  • I am embarrassed about my hesitation, and the other person often feels uncomfortable too.
  • People don’t seem to get my point easily.
  • I often get surprising answers and others look confused.
  • If I try to speak a little faster it seems to make things worse!
  • Sometimes people don’t understand my words.
  • We speak the same language, but it sounds like different versions.

It seems that the problem then exists for second language speakers. Your ideas don’t show up as natural English. Something is lost in translation. This can equally apply to first-time speakers who are not fluent in a particular area.

Hesitation and vocabulary are often major problems for speakers and listeners. They can be closely related to confidence in speaking, especially in fluent speakers. This lack of self-confidence requires special attention in fluency courses.

Lost in translation

That is the root of the problem: the translation. It is common for speakers of other languages ​​to mentally translate while speaking, which rarely works, especially when speaking quickly, as sounds, structures, and sentences coming from their own language can obscure the meaning.

We think in “meaningful chunks, not in individual words”

The reason translation doesn’t work is because we think in meaningful segments of speech (images, idiomatic expressions, learned phrases), not in words that they often pull from acoustic memory. Such segments of speech are not necessarily appropriate or effective in another language.

So what’s the most effective way to learn to express thoughts in a second language? Does it think in English? Is this even possible for everyone except the truly bilingual speaker?

Think in English or not think in English?

The thought process is certainly not my area of ​​expertise, but we can talk in general about what happens when a fluent native English speaker thinks in English and expresses their thoughts in fluent language [1].

Basically, when a thought is formed, the brain has to search through huge libraries of structures and segments of language that have emerged over the course of life in order to find the best way to express it. Then there is the creative sentence formation combined with the appropriate sound patterns. Read the article by Dr. Arkady Zilberman on this website regarding the complexity of the task.

For non-native speakers, on the other hand, the search for the best expression of the idea takes place in a much more restricted language stock. The return to translation is a natural result. There is also the problem of where to place segments and what sound patterns apply. The result can be hesitation, poor construction, vocabulary, ambiguity, and unintended meanings.

English as a Second Language: The Goal of Language Training

What is possible for second language users is to speak with less hesitation, sound natural and clear most of the time, and make an impact. This is the purpose of the type of skill training I do. My approach involves some direct thinking in English, but only one bit * at a time. It also includes learning how sounds flow together in English and how important sounds are in providing meaning. Most of the time it comes down to knowing and using words, phrases, and constructions that are commonly used by native speakers, and if that sounds like copying, this is it! Remember, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Methodology and eLearning

As for the methodology for developing these areas of language, the most direct way is to focus on ear learning: creating sonic memories of the target language rather than purely visual memories. The sound memories can be generated in an eLearning course through extensive audio material, thinking out loud while reading, and self-recording exercises. In fact, self-study has an advantage here, as these listening processes are more individual for the learner.

Back to thinking in English in chunks

The first step is to learn the language in larger units. If you want the language you have learned to come together for you at the start of speaking, the best thing to do is to learn whole expressions (audible, not just visual) and structures into which they can flow. This way you can refer to them quickly to express your idea in the form of meaningful blocks of speech instead of full sentences, as in “I’m sorry, but (signal block) // I haven’t finished the document yet (main chunk) / / since I don’t have any current data “(secondary chunk).

* Chunk = a natural grouping of words / phrases that convey meaningful information

Additional sources:

[1] Do you need to think in English to speak fluently?

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