7 Things NOT to Do When Speaking English

I’ve spent the last few years traveling and living abroad, and during that time I’ve talked to a lot of people who spoke English as a foreign language.

After talking to thousands of foreigners in English I’ve noticed several things that they do that hurt their progress as a language learner. Here are the top 7:

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1. Don’t Be too Ashamed to Speak

There is only one way to learn how to speak English, and that is to open your mouth and speak English! The only way you will ever get better at speaking is by speaking, and speaking a lot!

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear. – Mark Twain

You can make excuses for why you don’t want to speak, like saying that you’re too embarrassed to speak, but these won’t get you any closer to your goal of achieving English fluency. It doesn’t matter if you have no vocabulary, or if your pronunciation isn’t perfect, you need to open your mouth and speak if you want to improve.

Whatever you do, don’t say that you can’t speak English because this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. By believing that you can’t speak English you close your mind to trying, and never give yourself the opportunity to improve. The only way to improve your English is to practice it, no matter how bad you may or may not be at it.

2. Don’t Be Afraid of Making Mistakes

Another thing you shouldn’t do when speaking English is to be afraid of making mistakes. Part of being human is making mistakes and sooner or later you’re going to have to accept the fact that you’re not perfect and that you will always make mistakes. The only way you can avoid making mistakes is by not trying at all. If you follow this approach you’ll avoid making mistakes, but you’ll never improve either.

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. – Michael Jordan

This may seem counter-intuitive, but you should try making as many mistakes as possible. If you are making mistakes that means you are actually speaking English and improving. If you aren’t making mistakes every day then you aren’t speaking enough. Of course, you shouldn’t intentionally make mistakes, and you should try to be aware of your mistakes so you can learn from them and improve your skills.

Grammar is the last thing you should be worried about when speaking English. You don’t need to have perfect grammar in order to communicate with someone in English. Native speakers aren’t going to judge you for having bad grammar, they are going to be more focused on understanding your meaning and continuing the conversation.

As long as you speak clearly and confidently, it doesn’t matter if you use the wrong article, adjective ending or sentence order.

Many language programs put too much emphasis on grammar and not enough emphasis on speaking. They spread the idea that you have to know all the grammar rules before you can start speaking, which can have the effect of reducing your confidence when you finally start speaking. This is backwards. You should learn to speak first to build your confidence, and then work on correcting your grammar after you’ve reached a basic level of fluency.

Everybody makes mistakes, even native speakers of English. Nobody is born speaking perfect English; fluency is something that takes time and hard work to achieve. There are many Americans who go through 13 years of schooling and still don’t learn how to speak English properly.

So don’t be discouraged by your mistakes. Learn to embrace them and value them for the role they play in your learning.

3. Don’t Apologize For Your Level

Something that really annoys me when I’m talking to someone in English is when they apologize for how much English they speak. I’ve never been offended by someone’s level of English, and I don’t get upset when someone makes mistakes. If you talk to someone and they do get offended or upset because of your level of English they are an evil person who probably tortures kittens in their spare time.

Most of the people who apologize for their level of English feel like they should speak better than they do. Its fine to think this, but don’t get upset at yourself for not knowing more than you do. Achieving fluency in any language is a process that takes time, and you can’t expect to become fluent overnight. Whether you’ve been studying English for years or only for a few months, you’ve put in a lot of work to get where you are, so don’t underestimate yourself.

4. Don’t get frustrated with yourself

Learning English will come with a certain amount of frustration. At some point you will come to a stage where you won’t be able to fully express yourself like you would be able to in your native language, and there will be times when you won’t be able to find the right word to say.

Nearly everyone who learns English goes through this phase; it’s just a natural part of the language learning process. This stage may last only a few weeks if you are completely immersed in English, but it could last years if you only use English twice a week at your language school. The only way to overcome this frustration is by practice, practice, practice.

Keep in mind that this frustration isn’t because you’re not smart enough, or because the language is too difficult, it is something that many people have to go through. By embracing this frustration and feeling it more intensely through increased exposure you can pass through this stage more rapidly.

5. Don’t take it personally when people don’t understand you

At some point in your English speaking career you are going to speak to someone who, no matter how hard you try just cant seem to understand you. Due to the large number of English speakers in the world, there are a wide range of accents, some of which are hard to understand. I for one have a hard time understanding some Australian accents and most Irish accents.

You’ll have this problem a lot when talking with people who aren’t used to dealing with foreigners. If they don’t have this experience they will be used to hearing English spoken in a very specific way, and they won’t have any frame of reference when talking to you. Realize that this isn’t a reflection of your language skills, but rather a reflection of this person’s lack of exposure to different people.

This can also happen when talking to English learners who have a lower level of English than you. They won’t be able to understand everything you say because of your more advanced vocabulary. Try to remember that you were once at their level and not everyone is at the same place on their language journey.

The same person who gets offended when you speak English also tortures kittens like these.

6. Don’t compare yourself to other English Speakers

No matter what level your English is at, you had to work hard to bring yourself to that level. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished and don’t be too concerned with what other people think about it. They don’t know how many hours you’ve had to work to get to where you are, they don’t know all the struggles you’ve been through to get there.

This also means you shouldn’t go around comparing yourself to other people. Everybody is different; some people learn languages more easily than others and some people have spent more time working to improve their English. Just because your friend who lived in London for 3 years can speak really well doesn’t mean that you’re not on the right path.

Some people like to see others fail, and by paying any attention to these people you are just feeding their negativity. Any time you spend worrying about what they think of you is time wasted that could be better spent by working to improve your English.

7. If you are fluent, or just think you are, DON’T GET COCKY (ARROGANT)

“Life (English) is a Journey Not a Destination.”

This part was written by Justin.

English is not a chip in your brain. It’s a learning process. Maybe this is gonna seem harsh, and definitely a bit paradoxical, but for the rare English Jedi breed, they realize that there’s never really perfect fluency, only the impassioned and ever-approaching journey toward it.

This means that when you finally become fluent, (whatever that really means to you or to the world), you shouldn’t adopt the attitude of somebody who thinks “I already learned English” because there are some fundamental problems and limitations that come from this assumption. Here are just a few:

  • You’re living a lie because you never stop learning a language. It is like calling yourself a fully-realized human being.  There’s always the next level up, and the current level always needs practice.
  • The learner tends to get lazy, and it’s a universal fact about any learning process, that if you aren’t growing, you are probably getting worse.
  • The inflated ego prevents you from recognizing the final 5 or 10% that separates you from the master jedi breed of English speakers.
  • There is a tendency to treat other English learners (or people who are learning their language) in a condescending, totally idiotic way, forgetting what it is like to learn because they themselves are no longer connected to their own learning process.
  • Cultural Understanding: You can know everything about grammar, but that doesn’t mean you are fluent. You need to be constantly connected to the source of the language (culture) so that it flows from who you really are.

So there you have it, 7 things not to do when speaking English. Now that you know what not to do, go out there and speak English!

More to come soon on this topic. If you found this article helpful, we greatly appreciate your feedback, participation, likes, sharing and telling your friends about us. If you haven’t already, join the free and open Real Life English Facebook Community and join our mailing list

Did you enjoy this article? You might also like:

  • I could use all of these in my process of learning Spanish. Just replace “English” with “Spanish” in every instance.

  • Justin

    Thanks for the comment, Alisson. We hope to hear more from you! Take care!

  • marcos

    nice advices , nice words , i’ve been enjying to use this blog a lot ,tks I love to read ur posts in english ,

  • Le Hong

    Thank so much for your useful advice!

  • WISSAME

    Hello it’s a very useful article it will help me to improve my english
    the problem is that i found difficulet in wrting

  • Justin

    We’re glad it’s helping! Make sure you join our community here–> http://www.facebook.com/groups/reallifeenglish/

    Take care!

  • Very Helpful Thanks you very much

  • Justin

    Thank YOU!

  • Great post! I like the pics 🙂
    I’d conclude that speaking a foreign language well is also a matter of confidence. Without it, it’s exceptionally difficult to progress.

  • VeraV.

    Hi Josh and Justin! My humblest thank you for this article! I’ve just spent several hours trying to cram a pretty intense set of English vocabulary into my head and ended up having tears in my eyes from the sheer feeling of frustration and helplessness (in other words, went through something you wrote about on the part 4 of your text). Feeling very silly, and through various more or less desperate Google searches, like “english shit”, “inferiority complex and english”, and “i will never learn perfect english” (feel free to laugh… I did, through my tears), I finally found my way here and ta-dah! I am feeling so much better now. So, thank you. Definitely adding this to my favourites! And seriously contemplating on leaving the grammar aside for a moment and focusing on finding some forum to actually USE my English in.

    Keep up the good work! 🙂

    (I had some serious last minute urge to go and check my spelling from the nearest dictionary but no, won’t do that… 🙂 )

  • Justin

    Vera, I LOVED your message. We really appreciate it and it makes us happy to know that our writing is helping people like you. It’s exactly why we’re doing it. Join our internationally Facebook community here http://www.facebook.com/groups/reallifeenglish/ and you can practice there! We’re planning on doing some google hangouts in about a month. Where do you live? Thanks again!
    -Justin

  • Allan

    Useful article. I’ve learnt a lot with Real Life English

  • Justin

    That’s awesome Elmer. It sounds like you’re on your way!

  • Carlos

    I’d like to have more time to read these tips e these useful comments.

  • jamal

    I am a teacher of English in one of the Egyptian public schools. My students’age is between 16 and 17 years old. I’ve been teaching English for about 20 years now. I’ve been always telling my students not blush or sweat when they speak English, in other words not to be shy of making mistakes but you know teaching english in Egypt isn’t going well. No teacher trainings, no school phonetic labs, no cassettes, etc. We as teachers , surely not all teachers, are struggling to teach our students.

  • Justin

    Hey Jamal, Great to hear from you. It sounds like you’re doing a good job in a difficult situation. I hope you get more support, but in the meantime, keep your head up. Thanks for the comment.

  • Manar

    Hi,

    Actullay, the report was so an amazing .. this first time I read somthing long in english !
    Actullay, I am suprise from my self. Loool ..

    Some times when someone put qusetion espically in grammar .. when I try to answer I be chary .. I afraid to make mistake :”( .. After this report , I will try particpate and I will be proude when I make mistake :pP

    Finally, thank you so much : )

  • Justin

    Awesome to hear that it helped Manar! Keep practicing and studying hard. You’ll improve really fast. Check out our world community http://www.facebook.com/groups/reallifeenglish/

  • Alexandra

    Hi Josh and Justin,

    I’m very soon sitting the cambridge exam and i must say this article saved me from collapsing as I was pretty much doubting about my english skills. But here I am now, totally cheered up and relieved by your words. So thanks a lot guys ! I believe there should be more people, like you, telling about the positive sides of learning languages as well as of, quite simply, ‘living’ !

    Keep it up !
    Greetings from France 🙂

  • Martha

    OMG! I loved you! You are a such a great writter and also a motivator! You really made me to want to be better in english! thank you so much!

  • Noon M. Y. Dakeen

    good to know

  • sara

    Its so hard for a non-native speaker to speak another language and it takes a lot of energy.I try to use correct words and sentences but i have to think too much.I like English.Its a beautiful language.Most of the things that you say is right.For example im so afraid to make mistake and i become so embarrassment and finally it takes half an hour i write it.

  • Justin

    Hey Sara, Thanks for leaving a nice comment. It seems like you’re working hard and doing great with your English learning. Keep up the good work and be courageous because it will take you places. Take care.

  • neha sharma

    hello there,
    I am so happy to read this article and overwhelmed by your way of tips and suggestions.
    so am from india and striving towards atleast 10% of fluency so that I can save other country English speaking ppl from my English. because my profession is to move around (English countries) like aussie,america,london…am often confused by the accents mostly by the Australian accents. I really like the native American speakers coz they are really friendly and helping nature is more.
    finally thanks for the positive way of narrating this article.
    It’s really awesome..
    I got one question plz answer….am waiting for your reply.
    does learning grammar perfectly makes English learning easier and faster??
    please answer to my question
    bye.

  • Joe

    Great topics… Very very useful. Really I think the most difficult thing to fight with when you want to speak is the fear… Obviously this is my opinion. It’s true, we can solve this problem speaking a lot but, how this? For example I’m Italian and, fortunately, I have some friends who are native speaker and I can talk with them. If not, in what way could I speak in English? We need a web-service that offer us the opportunity to speak in English with someone, better if he or she is native speaker…

  • C. Alves

    Great article! It’s very encouraging. Thanks guys.

  • Hoang-63

    I’ve learnt a new lesson, very interesting lesson,very useful advise.
    Thanks,
    Hoang_63

  • Justin

    You’re absolutely right. This comes from our language learning (Spanish and Portuguese). Thanks for the comment!

  • Justin

    Hey Suraj, great to hear from you. I’m glad the article was helpful. It’s always time to improve and we all need a little direction. Thank you for leaving a comment and we hope to hear more from you. Do you know the RLE International Facebook Community? Check it out! https://www.facebook.com/groups/reallifeenglish/

  • Justin

    That’s a good start at least. Fluency comes with practice and consistent hard work. We might as well open our mouths along the way and speed up the process. Thanks for the comment.

  • Justin

    I’m glad it was helpful. Thanks for commenting.

  • Justin

    That’s the best way to start! Thanks for supporting.

  • Justin

    Thanks for reading!

  • Justin

    It’s true, but speaking on a regular basis with both natives and non-natives will help you. Check out this article I wrote on how to conquer fear–http://reallifebh.com/conquerfear

  • devy loryana

    well, motivating and inspiring. I’ll tell to my students tomorrow, thank you.

  • Jack Chen

    I am learning oral english,but i agree with all your points in artical,I am from China,our teacher teaches grammar first,and then speaking,i think it’s wrong now.

  • AUSAN

    There are so many things that we really do, and that will encourage us and friends to speak and express what we feel freely, that’s the best way to start!

  • Everyone who is an expert was once an amateur. We all start from zero. As you start speaking, not only are you able to think faster of the words, but…(and here is where it gets exciting) you will start thinking in English. This will accelerate your learning.

  • I would recommend focusing on understanding people and them understanding you. Grammar is not so important (at first) as long as people can understand you.

  • Justin

    Very simple! It just demands courage.

  • CLAUDIA CANEDO

    Excellent!!!Fluency comes with practice and consistent hard work –

  • Anil

    Hello sir , really i am inspired ,Thank you so much .:)

  • Hello! I really appreciate the way you are helping people who want to succeed in Learning English to do better. I’ve just discorvered your website ”reallife”, and i found it wonderful! By putting in pratice your advices i realized that my English is improving very quickly, even though i’m not living in English speaking country. I try to Watch a lot video and listen to every day. I sometimes speak to myself, and i noticed that my accent i really good, i pronounced words perfectly, and i start to understand clearly native speaker without any problem! I can also Watch TV like “CNN Student News” and understand easily. Well, i’d like to thanks very much for what you are doing to helping anyone who want to learn English. The only thing i have to do more actualy is “reading” to acquire new vocabularies. Once again thank you!

  • Nora

    Amazing report!! It really boosted up my confidence. Just now I was feeling low because today we had a debate on our class and everyone was asked to prepare a speech. A classmate of mine asked me a question based upon my speech and I just couldn’t answer it, I was just standing there with a blank expression on my face. I knew the answer but couldn’t speak it up thinkin that it was better to keep quiet cause my english isn’t that good. I was really upset seein how my frnds spoke that good english but i couln’t. i really never made any effort to speak english cause i was too embarrased thinkin what would people say if they listen to my english. but this article was really helpful. thank u very much.

  • ratnesh kashi

    it’s amazing article i really like it. i’m learning speak English and it is very helpful for me. thanks a lot.

  • I know a lot vocabulory but not good when speaking, i can’t use its for my conversation,anyway thanks for this artical , it’s helpful and couraging me. Thank alot

  • Justin

    Thanks for reading Qabbho, I’m glad it was helpful! Keep up the good work.

  • Ocean

    It is great to read this article. It helps me so much and also encourage me so much to improve my English speaking skill. I will follow the advice and I hope that my English will be better in the future. Thanks for posting and sharing experience.

  • Prince Touray

    Each age in man’s life is a dream that is coming to end and one coming to birth….. I agree with you and I shall learn for your teachings because example is the school of all mankind and their will learn from no other…. Am so greatful to you…..!!

  • jinny pinaroc

    makes sense! thanks!

  • meg

    i am a native English speaker and found this super helpful! currently attempting to learn German while I live here in Germany and the same applies!My worst of these is not speaking out of fear this reallyencouraged me to just speak and not worry about it!

  • Justin

    Hey Meg, Great to hear from you. I’m really glad these tips were useful for you. We actually just did a podcast on this. You should check it out! http://reallifebh.com/podcast_50 Take care, Meg! Thanks for reading and saying hi!

  • emre

    thanks buddy. i hope i can apply all these process when trying to speak English 😉

  • Justin

    Thanks for reading!

  • farzin

    thanks a lot for very useful advises

  • Justin

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Michelle. I’m glad this was helpful! You are an inspiration!

  • rabia

    i completely agree with the article as i have already faced it and thanks for such an amazing article which is really helpful for the beginners…….

  • Theeraphon Suwannaratana

    Thank you very much for that.I did’t know before.I’ll take them to my student.

  • I’m so happy that I found your website. I’m really trying to find the way to improve the language. Even that you said don’t be afraid is really hard. Sometimes I just get very frustrated at work, my coworkers analyze each word that I said and sometimes make fun of me and I feel horrible. But thank you so much for share this information. I will be positive about all this things and do my best. Thank you again!

  • Justin

    Thanks for reading, Gabriella! I’m glad it’s useful for you. I know it’s hard, but keep going and you’ll overcome your psychological barriers. Check out this article which relates to this– http://reallifeglobal.com/conquerfear Thanks again for reading!

  • It is great Paragraphe….It gaves me 10 steps forward, many thanks gental….Libya

  • Howdy Josh.

    SUrely you are quite right about your stand-point. I did living up there
    in FLA during 1 year and got real groovy to be on touch to flr folks and
    mostly were kindly to share topics. I regard real cool speak english and
    do talk over 10 year not to mention french,juppy to getting by.

    Like everybofy knows english language is well liked far and wide for a
    dialog of which is named a Business language also.

    All the very best . Andre CTBA

  • Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide credit
    and sources back to your website? My blog site is in the very same area of interest as yours and my visitors would definitely benefit from a
    lot of the information you provide here. Please let me know
    if this okay with you. Thanks!

  • Justin

    Hey Katherine, Thanks for the message. Feel free to copy and link whatever you want! Thanks for reading.

  • Ale

    the whole things you tell are useful

  • Ale

    it’s dangerous give your cellphone

  • Ale

    do not do that

  • Ale

    do you speak portuguese?, I like it’s sound

  • ganesh kumar

    Thanks buddy, it really boost my confidence level…..

  • mansi

    Mansi from India
    thanks, as I have also start learning English. I am not fluent your article help me and boost my confidence level one thing I want to ask you How can I do more practice alone as I stayed in backward area nobody knows English very well. I think surrounding does matter in speaking please help me sir I am waiting for your reply

  • vikas

    you are amazing in the article. I got rejected in interviews and i was feeling sad about it but your article is very good it is like a booster to a slow person. It created a sense of confidence in me and i am very thankful to you. You are doing a good job keep it going. Hats off 🙂

  • Pingback: How to improve English communicate skills | Improving English()

  • Webert Araújo

    Thanks for this article guys! I learned a lot!

  • Thanks a lot.. Have been learning Russian for past 2 months and you have echoed my teacher. She is excellent and says exactly the same what you have said.. though she may agree with your views grammar as she is hell bent on we learning grammar

  • Its very helpful for me.Thank You

  • your advice is really helpful at these day for me really happy for your advice and my confidence level is also rising up.for best suggestion thanku men

  • thanx alot u r increase my confidence

  • That’s awesome to hear! Keep at it 🙂

  • I hope you learned a lot!

  • i really like that. it’s a very great article. thumps up !!!
    thank you

  • Justin

    Thank you, Asmaa!

  • I am totally agree with the writer. In fact, spanish people we have a master in feeling embarrash when we have to speak the language.
    That’s why I Will advise those who really want to achieve a fluent spoken english to following this rules.

  • Justin

    Hey Andar, Thanks for responding! Have a great day.

  • Ugo

    It’s a excellent topic. I believe that English learning, such as any learning process, is a long journey. Each moment is a good moment to learn more about some konwlegde. You grow up as a person and become to be able to see new ways in your life.

    Congrats.

  • Suzy1502

    Thanks for sharing..but u know what..the foreigners usually dont laugh at people who doesnt know english or not fluent in english..but like in my country Malaysia, those Malaysians who think they’re very good in English will always laugh to the local people who doesnt know English..like myself,I am not confident speaking in English..afraid that people will laugh at me.. (-_-‘)

  • Suva Kar senapati

    I love who write this article, and it gives confident me also

  • Suva Kar senapati

    I love Josh

  • Tamilarasan.p

    it was super..I am inspired and hereafter whatever happens I am going to speak English without fear.

  • Erick Moreno

    it´s a really great article, thanks a lot for share you knowledge whit us, I’ll try to apply this seven advices!

  • Hiro Hinds Paul

    i have just discoverd that i´ve seven problems.

  • Balachari Korrapati

    Now I am in a soft skills training session. But I noticed that I can’t talk English fluently . I was before confident that I speak English fluently. but it has came down.

  • Valdelino Lourenço

    Excellent!

  • Fantastic article! I completely agree with all points here. I think as English teachers, we have to focus on the technical side of English, of course, such as the grammar rules and pronunciation; but second to that, and just as important, we must raise the student’s confidence level as much as possible.

    Confidence is a HUGE part of speaking a second language, so please students, paste a BIG smile on your face, take a deep breath and simply speak…you’ll be so glad you did 🙂

  • The same way to others !

  • Omri Bogu

    Ma homie! i know that i have a good English but sometimes i feel like i have bad English. The question is how am i gonna deal with this.

  • Efernal Death

    Ahh yes the English Language.. There is many different regional err forms of English. Where I live I had to learn how to understand Spanish English speakers, New Jersey, New York, PA Dutch, South Eastern PA. I do understand Southern United states and I grew up in Western PA wich is kinda sorta like Southern United States only with a bit of cursing thrown in for the non bible thumpers you get to talk to. Be aware that the books (yeas there are many) for slang words used by Native English speakers is huge. Sometime even a fluent English speaker might not know the correct term but they will know at least 2-3 different slang terms to describe whatever it is they are trying to talk about. And some of those terms can vary every 10 miles or every other town you come across.

    Even when typing on a forum or playing an MMO game, Don’t be afraid to misspell words or word things that might look odd to the fluent English speaker. One thing to remember when reading anything and this is especially true is that you can misspell every single word and as long as you have the first and last letter in every word right the English speaking person will be able to read it unless they are just starting to learn how to read themselves. Don’t get embarrassed about anything when speaking. Talking is the best way to learn the language.

  • Davi A. Fernandes

    Muito legais essas instruções para melhor aproveitamento. Já errei bastante, mas acredito que assim consigo aprender. (Portuguese Brazil)

    Very cool, these instructions to better use, learn. Already I messed up enough, but I believe so I can learn.

  • phani kk bahadhur

    Real truth you said.
    if you feeling shy at the time speaking English do this Practice yourself in front of mirror.

  • Fauziah Ajirun

    This articles help me a lot.its help encourage me to learn and speak english better then before…no matter i am good or bad in that spoken…as a learner….i don’t care either other person will judge me as someone who doesn’t know to converse in english as well as they are…as long as i can communicate with other and find that they are understand me…its better then i just shut my mouth not talking to and afraid of other person may laugh at me in my english languages….thanks to the person who post this articles…i feel great in my learning process in english…thank you so much…i really appreciate it…

  • MOHamed

    that is a very helpful and great article i think ,,thank you very much Mr. josh

  • VBB

    A Great article, a real truth!

  • Henrique Giacomeli

    I want to compliment the authors for this amazing article. I 100% agree with this 7 rules about speaking english, and it gave me encouragement to take next step and speak english whatever my level of fluency and good or bad pronunciation my english are!

  • Real Life English

    Thanks Henrique for your nice comment and support. Keep up the great work! Maybe we’ll video chat on http://www.RealLifeGlobal.com one of these days.

    Cheers!

    Justin

  • Real Life English

    Thanks a lot! Maybe we’ll video chat on http://www.RealLifeGlobal.com one of these days.

    Cheers!

    Justin

  • Angelo

    Great!