Even though some people have been studying English for years, just a few of them dare to say they are fluent. One of the reasons for that is the belief in some “fluency myths” that they have heard throughout their lives without questioning how true they really are. For example, we usually think that we will become fluent when we are able to translate most of the words from our native language, understand everybody perfectly, watch a movie understanding every single thing, avoid stuttering or pausing when we are speaking, or even not to feel nervous for a presentation. That’s THE dream, right?
Well, before we go further in this discussion, let me ask you a few questions. In your native language, do you:
know all the words?
understand 100% of what people say 100% of the time?
ever stutter or pause when talking to someone?
ever feel nervous when speaking in public?
I know all the words from my native language
Well, if you do, congratulations! You’ve become a human dictionary! If you don’t, that’s fine, most people don’t know all the words in their native language. Actually, if we could count all the words we use daily in our native language, we would be surprised to see how small our vocabulary is. So, how can we be fluent in our native language if we don’t even know all the words and our daily vocabulary is so small?
The answer is: we know how to use the words that we know, combining them in order to expand our vocabulary and express our thoughts and feelings. The same happens when we are learning another language. Some people have a good range of vocabulary, but they don’t know how to use it, how to combine the words or how to be creative with the language to express what they want. Other people don’t have a very extensive vocabulary, but they know how to use what they have in an effective way.
I understand 100% of what people say 100% of the time
We need to understand the difference between knowing words and understanding what people are saying. For example, have you ever experienced being in a class in college and not understanding anything, even though you knew all the words? Understanding is not always about knowing words. The problem is that sometimes we feel so insecure about the language we are learning that we always blame our lack of vocabulary to explain why we are not able to understand something.
It’s true that vocabulary can be a problem, but it’s not always THE problem. The same thing happens with watching movies. I always get lost when I am watching detective movies or science fiction, even in my native language. It probably happens because it requires a lot of my attention and also because the stories are not very familiar to me. So, is my lack of understanding a problem with my vocabulary? NO, right? Language is not always the problem, remember that!
I never stutter or pause when talking to someone
I don’t know about you, but I do that A LOT in my native language! Is it because I don’t know my native language? Of course not. I have realized that I am very careful with what I want to say, regardless of the language I am using. My speaking style requires a lot of thinking before saying something aloud. That’s who I am. But I’ve not always realized that.
I used to get very upset and frustrated when I paused while speaking English. I wanted to speak faster, like a native speaker! Until one day I started observing myself using my native language. To my surprise, I have the same speech characteristics when using my native language. After realizing that, I started enjoying and respecting the way I speak, understanding when my pauses and stuttering are due to my lack of proficiency in the foreign language or simply my speaking style.
I never feel nervous when talking in public in my native language
If you are like most human beings, you feel nervous when talking in public. So, it is common to feel nervous when talking in public in a foreign language. Actually, you feel double nervous because you have a heavy concern on your shoulder: the language - among many other concerns. But the point I want to make here is that feeling nervous is ok. If you think you won’t feel nervous when you become fluent, you are probably wrong. The secret to reduce your nervousness is to be double prepared! Plan your presentation, the points you want to make and how you want to present them. Giving a presentation in another language means double time for planning and practice. The more you plan and practice, you increase your chances to keep your nervousness and anxiety under control or even reduce it.
These are some important reflections to help you destroy these myths that may be holding you back and making you feel less confident about your communication. As soon as you start working on them, you will realize that you are closer to fluency than you think.
Good luck on your learning journey!
Fernanda Carvalho is a Fulbrighter, certified Neurolanguage® Coach with a Master's in TESOL. She believes in a holistic approach to language teaching, which involves people's development as a whole and not only language itself. You can find her on facebook @languagenextlevel and on her website www.languagenextlevel.com. Schedule your first neurolanguage® coaching session for free and check how she can help you improve your communication in English.