The Most Important Lesson I Learned About English Fluency This Year

“Become like water my friend.” ~Bruce Lee

As 2018 comes to an end I’ve been reflecting on the lessons that I’ve learned while living and teaching English in Brazil, and I have to say that 2018 was quite a journey.

Looking back1, I can see how I’ve made a lot of progress in different areas of my life by making small changes along the way and forming habits to help reach my goals.

I started the year teaching English in a small school in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and through hard work, persistence, and patience have been lucky enough to end the year leading the RealLife community, a global tribe of dedicated lifelong English learners.

I have to admit that I am so thankful to be a part of your journey to RealLife English fluency. For me, it has been an amazing opportunity to help you all understand and conquer English. I’m inspired by your consistent effort to improve your English skills.

2018 was a year that really pushed me outside of my comfort zone. Throughout the year, I faced the internal “dragons” of fear and self-limiting beliefs. Instead of avoiding them, I slayed2 a number of dragons in my life with grace3 and gratitude.

As a result, I’ve learned many lessons that have helped me grow along my journey. I consider this the reward of not just taking the easy route, but making the difficult decisions and facing challenges that would encourage my personal growth.

I’ve learned a lot of different lessons that relate not only to learning languages, but life in general, and I feel as if it is my duty to share my top learning with you.

So here we go…

Or should I say here we “flow”?

What is flow?

The word “flow” is literally used to describe anything that moves naturally, steadily, and continuously.

Since I studied geology and a lot of Earth processes in college, when I think it about “flow,” I imagine the movement of a body of water such as the waves of the ocean or the current in a river.

Waves are constantly coming and going along the shore. A river’s current is endlessly streaming with ease.

Steven Kotler, author of the book the Rise of Superman and one of the leading researchers on flow states defines flow as, “an optimal state of consciousness4, a state where you feel your best and perform your best.”

When you achieve a flow state, you get so focused on the task that you are doing in the present moment that everything else disappears.

As Steven Kotler explains, “Action and awareness merge. Your sense of self vanishes5. Your sense of time distorts6 (either, typically, speeds up; or, occasionally, slows down). And throughout, all aspects of performance, both mental and physical, go through the roof7.”

Here are a few synonyms that we commonly use to explain flow:

  1. Runner’s high: The pleasurable sensation you get from running long distances as your brain release endorphins (you might feel this when doing other intense exercises or sports as well).
  2. Being in the zone: To be completely focused on the activity you are doing.
  3. Being unconscious: Losing complete track of time and space.

At the end of this article is a video about the characteristics of flow. If you want to learn more about the science behind this concept, check out Steven Kotler’s blog.

Why is flow important?

Being an English learner, I bet how you could see how the concept of flow can help you speak like a native.

Imagine English words just flowing out of your mouth naturally as you give a presentation or meet a native English speaker for the first time.

Imagine not second guessing8 yourself about what you are saying.

Imagine losing track of time and your sense of self while speaking English.

The energetic vibrations of your voice just begin to flow out of your mouth like a current of water.

Personally, when I enter a flow state while writing, during my 1-on-1 English coaching lessons, or having a deep conversation in Portuguese with my Brazilian friends, I enter another dimension.

I feel so connected and present. I can explain my ideas and thoughts clearly and easily. It feels effortless and incredible writing an article or explaining a new vocabulary expression to my students.

I leave my flow state looking back on my results with surprise… Like “Woah!! Did I do all of that? And it only took me X amount of time. Really?!? I am THE MAN.”

When you tap into9 a flow state it becomes significantly easier to learn new skills. In a way, you become superhuman for a moment.

How To Tap Into A Flow State

Kotler’s research team has found that there are a few triggers or pre-conditions that can help you achieve a flow state.

1. Complete Concentration in the Present Moment

Don’t think about the past or feel worried about the future. Just focus on what you are doing right now in this present moment.

You can practice this while listening to music or podcasts, singing, or meditating.

2. Immediate Feedback

Put yourself into situations where you can receive feedback10 quickly. Have conversations with native English speakers and other English learners. Find an English coach that can help guide you to fluency.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as, “Am I saying this correctly? Is there another way I can say X word? What does that expression mean?”

Or even ask people directly to give you feedback on your performance.

3. Clear Goals

Understand exactly which English skills you want to improve, and create a system of daily habits that will help you make progress toward the goals you want to achieve.

For example, if you really want to improve your pronunciation skills, it would make sense to create a deliberate practice[link practice like a champion] of mimicking native English speakers through music or TED Talk presentations.

You can combine this with immediate feedback by recording yourself and listening to the recording.

4. The Challenge-Skills Ratio

Research shows when the challenge or task you are doing is around 4% beyond your current skill level you are able to enter a flow state easier.

For this reason, it is important to really challenge yourself when you are practicing English and do something that pushes you a little bit outside of your comfort zone.

However, as the picture below illustrates, you need to find a balance between doing something difficult, and doing something you’re capable of doing. If it’s too easy, you get bored, while activities that are too difficult may cause too much anxiety.

Unlocking Your English Superpowers

Up until this year, I’ve always struggled with really understanding how to speak Portuguese like a Brazilian, specifically like the Cariocas (name given to locals in Rio).

I would get frustrated trying to pronounce certain words and trying to switch from English to Portuguese, which is common for me since a lot of my friends are also Brazilians that want to practice their English.

Everything started to make sense when I learned about flow, and started tapping into it on a daily basis with my Portuguese through music and conversations with friends.

Portuguese is a language that naturally flows. While observing Brazilians, I realized you can’t be tense while speaking it. You have to be concentrated, yet calm and relaxed in order to speak the language.

You have to allow the energy of your thoughts and emotions to naturally express themselves. The same applies to learning how to speak English like a native.

Then, fellow RealLife Fluency coach Justin showed me an old, yet essential article he wrote on how to improve your pronunciation fast. I cannot stress how important the tips in this article were for my Portuguese speaking skills.

I learned that if you really want to improve your ability to speak any language, including English, quickly, just focus on these three pillars of successful pronunciation training:

  • Rhythm & Stress: The musicality that guides the way natives speak
  • Sound Morphing: How native speakers cut and combine their words
  • Music, Imitation & Mimicry: How you improve your accent by imitating native speakers

In my opinion, the most effective and time-efficient way to learn English is through music. One of my daily habits is to sing at least one song in the morning in Portuguese (my favorite band is a Brazilian reggae group called Natiruts).

It’s a really important part of my morning routine that makes me feel upbeat11 and positive about the day ahead of me. When I practice singing in Portuguese, I sometimes enter a flow state and just forget about everything going on around me.

When I enter a flow state while singing, the rhythm, intonation, connected speech, and accent of the language become easier to learn and imitate. It is an incredible feeling. I highly recommend you to try this technique.

Here’s an excellent video that RealLife Fluency coach Ethan recently made on how to learn English with music.

It’s Time To Flow!

Now that I have shared with you my most important lesson from 2018, you are ready to not only grow, but to flow into 2019 with style.

Going into 2019, I’m delighted to continue to share my knowledge with you as we continue along the journey to English fluency.

I’m so excited to help you level up your skills and tap into your English superpowers in this next year through constantly providing you with the most important lessons and tips that I have to offer.

2019 is the year of FLOW!!

Are you ready to answer the call to adventure and start your journey to English fluency in 2019?

Download a FREE copy of the RealLife English Manifesto and get our best English tips!

Learn More About The Science Behind Flow

Vocabulary from the article

  1. looking back: reflecting
  2. slayed: killed
  3. grace: If someone does something with grace, they do it in a smooth , controlled , and attractive way
  4. consciousness: awareness or perception
  5. vanishes: goes away
  6. distorts: to be effected or changed
  7. go through the roof: to increase quickly
  8. second guessing: questioning your abilities
  9. tap into: to reach or achieve
  10. feedback: a review of your performance
  11. upbeat: happy
  • Elisabeth says:

    Amazing article ?Thanks for sharing your knowledge! God bless you ❤?

    • Zach Barney says:

      Thank you Elisabeth for joining me on this journey! I hope that you enjoy my future articles as well.