If you’re reading this article, I bet you’ve wondered at least once ‘How can I become fluent in English”?
Learning English is not difficult, the simplicity of its grammar definitely helps, but becoming fluent is a whole other story.
In this short article, I’ll share with you three common misconceptions that have to do with learning English and becoming fluent compared to what actually works.
A Little Context - Who am I and why did I write this article?
Hi, my name is Lara and I’m from Italy. I want this to be the first thing that you know about me because I want you to understand that I was once in your shoes, that is there was a time when I couldn’t speak English.
When I tell people that English is my second language, they often have a hard time believing it. I’ve been asked if I was lying, if my parents were American, if at least I had had a nanny who was American or if I had spent long periods of time in the United States, and the answer to those questions is no, no, no and no.
I was born and raised in Milan, Italy, and I was brought up by my mom who, no, did not speak a word of English. Funnily enough, my mom started learning English at the ripe age of 70. That’s right, 70.
I started studying English in public school when I was fairly young, 7 years old. I had the same teachers my friends did, we went to the same school, had a lot of the same experiences and yet I don’t know many of them who grew up to become bilingual. Then why is that? What did I do differently? What made me achieve English fluency?
This is exactly why I wrote this article — to share with you what has worked for me so you too can become the English speaker you’ve always wanted to be.
The three lies you’ve been told about becoming fluent in English
Before I tell you about the three steps to English fluency, we need to address some of the most popular beliefs around English fluency that are completely false.
Lie #1: You need to live abroad for some time to become fluent
“If only I could go live in [insert English-speaking country] for [X] years, then I’m sure I would become fluent.” If you haven’t said that, I’m willing to bet you have at least had this thought.
By the time I first set foot in the US, I was already fluent. I had never been to an English-speaking country before, I had never spoken to a native English speaker, aside from Jordan, an American girl we hosted for two weeks in the summer of 2005 and yet, I could speak English freely and fluently.
So how did I do that? Well, you know how the saying goes “If the Mountain won’t go to Mohammed, then Mohammed must come to the Mountain.” That is, I brought English conversations into my life, into my house, into my room. How? Movies and TV series, hours and hours of movies and TV series.
You see? I had achieved the same thing I would have achieved if I had moved to the US. I was surrounded by English speakers. Sure, they weren’t real, I couldn’t interact with them, but the result was the same.
Truth #1: What you really need is exposure
It’s true that you need to maximize your exposure to the language and, yes, you need to make time for English. But you can do it without traveling or moving to a different country.
The only thing you need to do is find a way to surround yourself with the language. We’ll get into that later, but for now just know that, as long as you have the right tools and enough time, achieving English fluency at home is possible.
Lie #2: You just need to do a lot of listening
BS. I’m sorry to be so direct. But this is total BS. I remember I had a student when I was in Milan, she was an older lady, very wealthy and very determined to become more fluent. One day she started off the lesson pretty discouraged saying: “I don’t understand, every morning I turn on the TV, I switch to the BBC and then I go about my day, I still listen to it but I feel like it’s not helping me.” Yeah, no wonder, I wanted to say! Passively listening to the BBC or CNN isn’t going to magically turn you into some kind of language master.
First of all, just listening is usually not enough. We are not sponges that just absorb whatever content they come across. If this was the case, the tapes they used to sell in the 80’s that promised to teach us English while we were sleeping would have been the solution.
Secondly, more often than not, listening without the support of a transcript or of subtitles when watching a video won’t help much because you’re basically asking your brain to understand what’s being said, decipher a new word, understand its meaning AND memorize it and that’s simply too much to ask.
Truth #2: Listening is great but with some form of written support
The best way to learn is through the combo LISTENING+READING. If you like listening to a podcast, check and see if the transcript is available. When you’re watching a movie or a TV series, always add the subtitles, this will not only help you improve your pronunciation (because your brain starts to associate the strange English sounds with the actual written words) but it will also help you memorize new words and grammar structures. Your brain will thank you later. I promise.
Lie #3: You won’t go far without a teacher
False. What?! A teacher telling you you don’t need a teacher? Okay, let me explain this. Teachers are awesome. They are. But do not make the mistake of thinking you need to rely on a teacher to take your English where you want to take it, because you can do it by yourself.
Teachers, even the best teachers, at the end of the day, are nothing but a guide. A teacher is not a wizard, they can’t magically make you speak and they can’t learn stuff for you, all they can do is point you in the right direction, show you the way and take you by the hand when you stumble.
Truth #3: You can do this on your own (with the right tools)
The Internet is filled with resources to help you understand even the most obscure grammar rules, online dictionaries and Google images make it super easy to understand the meaning of a new word in a heartbeat and Netflix and other streaming services bring new engaging content to your door every day. You can do this on your own, I know you can because I did this on my own. All you need is the right tools and a good method.
So, remember: maximum exposure, listening while reading, quality content and great tools are what can really turn you into a fluent English speaker and don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.