What is the secret to reaching fluency in a language?
There are no absolute answers, just as there is no absolute definition of fluency. There are millions of methods and tests and programs that attempt to guide us to this goal, and as useful as these are in limited ways, most of them fail to reveal to us the essential ingredients to success.
There are certain ingredients for fluency, such as effective communication, grammatical competence, cultural awareness, and confidence, but at the end of the day, the recipe for fluency is unique to each individual learner.
Finding Your English Learning Path
1. Clarify WHY You Want to Learn: Ask yourself this important question. Do a good job clarifying this and use your answer as your inspiration and guide for the entire process. Do you really want to learn? Does the motivation come from you or from what others expect? Until your WHY comes from within you, in a way that you can access and forms part of your attitude, your path to fluency will probably be difficult, unimaginative, and inefficient.
However, if your “why” is strong and sincere, it will inspire you and energize your entire process. The best language learners know why they are learning, and it isn’t because they have to.
To learn more about clarifying your goals, check out the article, The #1 Reason Why You Aren’t Learning As Much English As You Want
2. Organize Your Life, Plan Your Process, and Set Goals: Research different methods, schools, and programs for learning. Be aware that high quality alternative options and opportunities for learning are increasing every day. Do you want to study online, with a school, or with a private teacher? Do you have a clear idea of what this will demand from your life?
Talk to friends who have already studied and those who have been successful, as well as a variety of schools. Sit in on classes to see which one you connect best with. And finally, set goals not only with your English (the final result), but also with your attitude and approach to the whole process.
To learn more about setting goals, check out the article, Simple But Powerful: Creating Goals for English Learning Success
3. Build A Support Network: Ask for the support of your family and friends. Search for mentors, people who have already been successful, teachers and friends in the real world, as well as virtual language learning communities (such as the RealLife Global Community).
The more successful language learners you surround yourself with, the more their attitudes, strategies, support, and confidence will rub off on you. Furthermore, in times of confusion, these people can and will help you.
4. Effective Methods / Effective Learning Styles: There are universally effective learning methods and there are personal learning styles. The Communicative approach, for example, is a very effective method for learning languages for any type of learner. In fact, this is how we learn naturally.
The Communicative Approach treats meaningful communication as the vehicle for learning a language, focusing primarily on function rather than structure (which isn´t ignored, but rather something that plays a complementary role in the process.)
Understanding your learning style would be to recognize how you as an individual learn. Are you more visual, auditory or kinesthetic? As a general rule, things you usually like doing are probably more in tune with your learning style. If you learn better visually, maybe TV shows and movies are your best bet, while if you’re an auditory learner, podcasts and music could be helpful.
If you don’t know how you learn, pay attention as you go along and experiment with different strategies because it’s going to teach you a lot about yourself. This is a big reason why people who learn a second language as an adult have a much easier time learning a third. They are more aware of how they learn.
5. Take Responsibility For Your Learning: Just do it. Dive in head first. Learn to enjoy it. If you aren’t engaged, don’t quit, but rather take responsibility and find out what is going wrong. If you aren’t learning, ask yourself why not. Maybe there are circumstances and other people who play a role in your learning process, but nobody can learn the language for you.
You can’t blame it on a lack circumstances, time, money or opportunities. You have to want it bad enough to overcome the external obstacles. Worthwhile accomplishments aren’t easy, but if you enjoy the process, it´s well worth the payoff. But also, sometimes taking responsibility means having the courage to change things around.
On the Path to English Fluency
6. Have the Right Attitude (Enjoy the Journey AND the Destination): Constantly evaluate your attitude towards learning English. Learning a language is not like learning math or science. If this is how you learned English in high school, it’s time to change your perspective.
Effective learning is engaging, interesting, and a something that brings the topic to life. Effective learning is to enjoy the process AND strive for the result. Think back to an experience where you enjoyed learning, where time flew by and you always looked forward to it.
Accessing this type of learning is not easy, but if you follow the above tips/ steps and have an idea of what it should feel like, you can start gathering the attitudes, support networks and resources to facilitate it. This will bring you an enjoyable process as well as the achievement of your goals.
7. Dedicate Yourself Every Day/ Create Routines: Be consistent, dedicated, and diligent with your efforts. Excellence is a daily habit, not a twice a week class. You should insert English in your life every single day, or at least 5 or 6 days a week, because nobody reaches excellence in anything without daily application. You probably don’t need to “study” every day, but find convenient moments in your life where you can create routines that allow you to play around with English, enjoy it, and learn in a relaxed way.
8. Don’t Accept Mediocrity: Don’t accept mediocrity from yourself or from the people you depend on for learning. To reiterate the above point about excellence, mediocrity is treating English like a twice a week hobby. Accept that you’re not going to be 100% perfect on your path to fluency, but you can learn a lot at every step, and you don’t have to ever settle into an attitude of mediocrity.
It’s easy to sleepwalk through life with mediocre attitude, a mediocre plan, a mediocre goal, a mediocre purpose, a mediocre school or teacher, or mediocrity on any of these 13 tips, but you get what you give, and fluency is not for the mediocre attitude. When you start expecting the best from yourself and others, some really awesome stuff starts to happen.
9. Relax, Have Fun, and Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself: Try to make it as fun and interesting as possible. Imagine your English as a baby learning to walk. You need to give the baby a lot of space, cushioning, support and patience so that it can fall as it needs to, enjoy itself, and learn how to do it without being judged.
One of the things that makes children such awesome learners is that they naturally do these things. As Dan Millman illustrates in his book Body Mind Mastery, “If babies held the same tendency toward self-criticism as adults, they might never learn to walk or talk. Can you imagine infants stomping, “Aarggh! Screwed up again!” Fortunately, babies are free of self-criticism. They just keep practicing.”
Your English is your baby and it needs your patience and love to develop.
10. Make English into a Lifestyle: Connect English to what you already do and like to do. This is called English For Life. Even if you have a hard time understanding what they are saying, just having contact with something you LIKE will help you little by little start to make sense of it.
If you like listening to English language music, start trying to understand the lyrics. If you like watching TV shows, make a routine out of watching them. Listen to online radio, music and podcasts, and other native speaking sources when you’re cooking at home. Configure your Facebook, cell phone, e-mail and other programs and devices into English. Use your imagination.
Lifelong English Fluency
11. Understand that Fluency is Not Perfection: People that don’t speak English look at English speakers and think they speak perfectly. The truth is that very very few non-native speakers speak perfectly (and even native speakers make mistakes). Even if they don´t admit it to you or themselves, most fluent speakers make mistakes, have a significant accent from their native tongue, and struggle with their own problems.
The point is that fluency is not about perfection, which for non-native speakers is pretty much impossible. Fluency is about meaningful communication, and all the rich world of cultural and professional opportunity that comes with it.
12. Constantly Review and Renew Your Process: While patience is surely advantageous to language learning, you can’t be afraid of making changes and renewing your process from time to time. What worked for you at an earlier stage of the process may not be working for you now, and it’s important to keep every step of your path fresh and spontaneous.
This could mean changing resources, trying different learning strategies, or even switching schools or teachers. My recommendation: Assess your progress every 4 to 6 months. Ask yourself how things are going. This demands a high degree of self-awareness and sometimes courage, but it’s essential. You might ask yourself: Are you enjoying it? Are you learning? Are you still inspired? If not, what’s the problem?
Take charge of your process.
13. Be Proactive, Create Opportunities & Use Technology To Your Advantage: In line with English For Life (covered in #10), to really get to a level where lifelong fluency is a real possibility, you need to be extremely proactive. English needs to be a part of your everyday life. You need to constantly be creating opportunities where you can use English.
This may include a lifestyle that promotes travel to English speaking countries, but it should definitely include an intimate understanding and use of certain strategies that give you contact with the language anywhere in the world, such as podcasts, online radio, TV & movies, and local communities that organize in person English speaking gathering, such as Couchsurfing.
Reinvent Your English, Reinvent Your Life
These tips were written for learners of various English levels, so I know some of these might be common sense to you, but I believe that everybody always needs constant reminders. Really, most of these tips can be applied to success in any area of life.
English fluency is not the universal and perfect application of all of these tips, but people that learned the path to fluency know what they want, they organize their lives to fulfill these dreams, and they are proactive. They know that to realize a dream, they have to start putting their dream in terms of a plan and a deadline, find the necessary people to accompany and help them on the path, and to learn to enjoy the process as a part of their daily existence.
They are the same ingredients for success in anything. You just have to decide you want it bad enough, start walking, fall on your face and keep getting up with a smile on your face. Good luck! You can count on RealLife English to help you on your path to fluency.
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