Start with the basics
The internet is brimming with ideas to help you. There are pronunciation classes, apps for listening skills, online e-learning courses, graded readers especially designed to get you to the next level, theatre groups for confidence – not to mention a huge choice of traditional grammar and course books.
It’s great to have so many resources at our fingertips but sometimes it can be overwhelming. Very often we feel lost and don’t know exactly what to do to move forward.
In this post I am going to present the 3 basic ingredients that every single student must do if they want to break out of The Intermediate Trap and become fluent. Of course you can and should do other stuff too but these three are the absolute fundamentals – if any one of these items is missing from your study schedule you are going to struggle to make any meaningful progress.
It sounds ridiculously obvious but if you want to be a brilliant speaker of English you will need to speak, speak and speak some more.
Most of us underestimate just how much speaking practice is required to be fluent. Very often we perform very well in grammar tests but we are unable to reach the same level in spoken English. Teachers are guilty of this too – so many Big Fish students say that they hardly did any speaking at all during their high school English lessons and that their Big Fish lessons are the first time that they have really had the chance to speak.
Remember that speaking in a foreign language places high demand on your cognitive processes so you will need a lot of practice for it to become automatic and effortless.
2. Error correction
Because speaking takes so much brain power mistakes are inevitable – very often we know the grammar inside out but we get distracted by all the other things our brains are trying to do (such as pronunciation and remembering vocabulary). Other times the error arises because we simply haven’t come across that rule before.
Actually, your mistakes are golden opportunities to improve so make sure you have someone who can tell you where you are going wrong.
It’s essential to make a concerted effort to increase your vocabulary. There are thousands of phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions that you will find really difficult to use confidently without actually studying them. Of course we do pick up bits and pieces by watching TV, reading and chatting to natives but without a structured organised approach your vocabulary will expand very slowly.
Recently a Big Fish student told me that they learnt the verb, ‘to dread’. Soon after she started seeing and hearing the word everywhere – in the newspaper and on TV. It’s almost as if before we learn a word we just don’t ‘see’ it. Our brains tend to process what we do know rather than focusing on what we don’t know.
The point is this – you will need to take active control of expanding your vocabulary if you want to make significant progress.
Make these three ingredients a daily habit.
It’s quite exciting to think that if you do these three things and you do them everyday you WILL improve and make significant progress on your journey to fluency.