Are you reaching your potential as an English speaker? Do you know what’s missing in your process? What if most (or even all) you were ever taught about what it takes to be a fluent English speaker is wrong, or, at best, severely incomplete?
Today we’re going to explore some of the foundational components of RealLife English, the habits and beliefs that separate the most fluent English speakers from the rest, and how you can make English a permanent part of yourself.
Free E-book: 101 Words You Will Never Learn in School
1. Change Your Attitude: Stop Studying English, Start Living it
Most people hold the misguided belief that they need to be studying English to be learning. Because of experiences people have about the word “study,” and the many limitations of conventional, grammar-focused methods, learners everywhere tend to erroneously correlate successful learning with stress, boredom, and resistance.
Whether or not you have a formal study program is another question, but in either case, applying it in authentic, meaningful contexts (inside or outside of the classroom) is the only way to make what you’ve learned permanent.
2. Have Fun: Connect English to what you already love (and what you already do)
More and more scientific evidence is confirming what we’ve all known in our hearts since we were kids: we learn best when we have fun. The best way to do this is to connect your learning to the things you already love, and when you can’t do that, connect them to the things you already do.
If you like video games, play them in English. Put English subtitles on whenever possible. Connect your professional development to English speaking resources (the quantity and quality of English media information is significantly better in English than any other language).
3. Don’t Overcomplicate it: Keep it Simple
You don’t need a complicated step by step study program to get fluent in English. In fact, the more simple and consistent, the better. Learners often get confused by their failures, not realizing that complexity isn’t the answer to their problems.
In fact, 90% of the English learning problems people have can be solved by your natural intelligence, creativity, and most importantly, an unbreakable desire to learn.
4. Do Something Every Single Day
It doesn’t have to be much, but doing something simple with your English every day, (preferably that you like) will bring consistent, incremental improvements that add up over time. In addition, it will soon become a strong habit, which leads to a deepened connection with your learning process.
Your daily activity can be simple, like singing your favorite songs in English, watching an episode of your favorite TV series (youtube video or TED Talk), writing an e-mail (or in your journal), reading one of our top articles on this site, listening to a podcast, or chatting with a study partner.
5. Take Advantage of Convenient Moments
Our lives are so busy and stressed that it’s often very difficult to study English for many learners. The solution, however, is not to make excuses or give up. The solution is to be creative and find a way. As the saying goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Mobile technology, such as smartphones and MP3 players, can be of great help. Also, moments that are otherwise wasted (or even stressful), such as when you’re stuck in traffic, or waiting in line, or exercising, or even cooking or cleaning your house.
These are excellent moments to listen to your favorite podcast, study vocabulary on Anki, or even watch a TED Talk Video. The objective of RealLife Radio is to help you learn in convenient moments!
6. Start Where You Are: Perfection is a Myth
So many people believe they need to be totally fluent in English to open their mouths and actually speak it. I have news for you: this is a big, fat excuse that limits your true potential.
You’re never going to be perfect in your English, and the consequence of waiting for that magical future day when you’ll be ready to speak is that you don’t apply what you learn, you don’t increase your fluency, and you actually forget much of it.
The best way to learn is to start where you’re at and actually use it, learn in the process, and be much bigger than your fear of making mistakes.
7. Be Bigger Than Your Fear and Embarrassment
Fear and embarrassment are the biggest barriers to fluency that exist. What are you afraid of? Making mistakes? Embarrassing yourself? Is your ego really so fragile and attached to your ability to communicate in English?
Accept that you will fall on your face. You will look stupid sometimes, to some people, and they may even laugh at you. This is the worst that can happen if you resolve to open your mouth and speak.
But, if you let your fear and embarrassment convince you that “some day” you’ll be fluent enough to speak, you’ll never be fluent.
8. Configure Your Gadgets/Technology in English
We live in a sea of cell phones, MP3 players, social media accounts, and other technological experiences that are excellent opportunities to make English a permanent and automatic part of your everyday life.
By configuring your Facebook, cell phone, Whatsapp, and other programs in English, you are literally programming your mind to understand and think in English with your technology. Even better, they can also serve as unconscious triggers to influence you to think in English.
9. Set Your Alarm to English Audio Every Morning
How much time do you waste every morning lying in bed between the time you wake up and the time you get up? If you’re like me, you spend at least a few minutes starting at the ceiling after your alarm goes off.
If you have (or are able to get) a digital alarm clock that plays MP3’s (or online radio), you could very easily take advantage of that wasted time to cultivate one more daily English habit. Five minutes per day may not seem like a lot, but over fifty weeks (a little less than a year) it ends up being 21 hours.
Starting your day with a small dose of English will make a significant difference in your English over the weeks, months, and years. So go ahead, download your favorite podcast (or our podcast), and start your day with an awesome learning habit!
10. Watch TV Series (& Ted Talks) Every Day
TV series are maybe the best way to make English a part of your life and who you are. Why? Because they are fun, there are a limitless supply of them, most of them follow a story, and because most of them are 20-25 minutes long, it very easy to make a daily habit.
Remember, we learn best when we have fun, and when we are intensely involved in a story and dying to know what is going to happen next, our senses are wide open to the learning experience. If you do this consistently, you’ll see some great results.
If you want to be amazed and learn at the same time, a life-changing resource for me has been TED Talks. Ted Talks are powerful and entertaining 18 minute presentations about incredible topics by leading specialists in every field. They have subtitles in English AND every other major language (to share with your family and friends)
Make TV series and/or TED.com a permanent part of your everyday life, and you will learn a hell of a lot, and fast.
11. Listen to Music (& Sing Along)
Music is one of the best and most popular ways to learn languages and it’s an excellent window into the culture of a people too.
So why is it that 90% of the world’s population listens to music in English, yet few people are fluent? Because just listening to music in English isn’t enough; you have to pay attention and have a strategy.
First of all, print out the lyrics and try your best to decipher what they are saying. If you enjoy the song, you will probably hear it over and over, maybe for years to come. There’s no better way to make vocabulary permanent than repeated use.
My second piece of advice is to SING! Open up your mouth and imitate the music. If you really want to improve your speaking, your pronunciation, record yourself and compare it to the original. If they sing fast, you can even slow it down so you can sing along.
12. Discover Podcasts (& RealLife Radio!)
One of my favorite ways to learn languages, and just about anything else, is podcasts (downloadable audio programs about anything you want). Listening to podcasts is an entertaining, educational, and extremely convenient habit that has made my life, and my learning much easier.
You can listen to podcasts for English learning (ESL- English as a second language), and we highly recommend you check out ours, RealLife Radio Podcast. If you’d like to practice your listening, ESL podcasts are a good place to start, but if you have a good base for understanding natives, there are plenty of podcasts made for native speakers.
English is loaded with amazing podcasts about all topics, so download itunes (the best database of podcasts in the world) and start exploring!
13. Meet Real People in Real Life (& on RealLife Global)
Probably the most powerful of all of these tips is meeting people. There is no better, more meaningful, and motivating way to make your English real than using it to communicate with living, breathing human beings. There are a ton of ways to meet people, and RealLife English tries to make this easy, both online and in-person.
Besides the up and coming RealLife Global Social Network, there are plenty of other ways to meet and chat with people online. In-person, if you don’t have the time or financial resources to travel or study abroad, there are tons of ways to meet people wherever you live.
We also recommend checking out the RealLife Global Movement, a worldwide network of in-person language learning events.
14. Build Support Networks: People & Communities
Whether you’re a self-taught learner or studying at a school, having a strong support network for your learning will drastically increase your chances of success. This includes not only people to practice with (and study groups), but also role models, mentors, and heroes, as well as the support of your family and friends.
As mentioned in #13, if you’re proactive, there are plenty of places to find people to practice with (online and/or in-person). Role models and mentors (people you look to as examples) could be teachers, friends, and if you’re a fan of this blog, us too (the RealLife Guys).
It’s also a huge help to have the support of your family and friends. Getting fluent in a language is not an easy task, so the more moral support you can generate from your loved ones, the more fluid the process will be.
If you don’t receive support from your family or friends, try talking to them, and remember, you can always make new friends in your English learning circles.
15. There is no Finish Line: Fluency is a Lifelong Journey
Much like #1 (Stop Studying English, Start Living it), the final way to Make English a Part of Who You Are is more of an attitude or a philosophy than an concrete activity: it’s understanding that fluency is a lifelong process, and that demands a completely different perception.
Fluency is not a chip in the brain or a final goal you attain and then rest, but instead an ongoing process that demands that you integrate the language AND the culture into your life, your relationships, your interests and habits, so that it becomes a natural, functioning, and unconscious part of not only what you do, but also who you are.
If you enjoyed this article and are a fan of RealLife English, I’d like to invite you to become a part of the RealLife Global Movement by joining our FREE mail mailing list. We’ll send you a weekly update of new videos, articles, and podcasts, and we’ll let you know when we RealLife English comes to your city!