THE 5 PILLARS OF LEARNING ENGLISH: MINDSET, LISTENING, VOCABULARY, PRONUNCIATION, AND FLUENCY

Hey there, English learner! How are you?

At Go Natural English, our goal is to help you learn English in the most fun and natural way. The Go Natural English method is the best solution if you want to speak English confidently, naturally, and fluently with other English speakers. For this reason, we are constantly creating new ways to help you learn English and become fluent. During our English Challenge week, for example, we’re able to share our most awesome tips and lessons with you for FREE!

Our last English Challenge week was such a success that we’ve decided to compile the very best of each lesson, and put it all together in one place. If you weren’t able to take part in our challenge, that’s OK! You can sign up here to find out about the next one, and receive lots of other amazing and FREE lessons. Until then, let’s take a look at the 5 pillars of learning English, and how you can apply them to your studies to become a fluent English speaker.

I. MINDSET

Most of us have previously studied a language in a traditional classroom setting, and our memory of those classes might be a bit traumatic. If you studied a second language while you were in school, odds are that not much of what you learned has stuck! It’s one thing to study your native language, and it’s another to study a second language in this type of format.

Remembering the things you might have learned in school, or in college, or even in a private class, is a challenge, especially if you haven’t practiced them much since you finished studying. Life gets in the way, and if we don’t practice, we lose those language skills. And, on top of that, traditional methods of learning just don’t work. But that’s not your fault!

The traditional way of learning prepares you for tests, for quizzes in a textbook, maybe for the TOEFL or IELS. They might prepare you for a diploma in high school or a college degree, but they don’t prepare you for the real world.

Did you memorize vocabulary word lists? Did you fill in the blanks with word forms? Did you learn advanced grammar, pronunciation rules, and tenses that you’ll never use except on a test? These exercises are not natural, and therefore are not the natural way to learn English.

What’s one thing that we all do naturally? Make mistakes! We all make mistakes, and we actually encourage you to make them here at Go Natural English. Crazy, right?! 🤪 We believe that making mistakes is actually an essential learning tool; that those mistakes present an incredible opportunity for you to learn.

Technology also plays a significant role in how you learn and practice a language. Many traditional teachers and classes are opposed to using social media, for example, or simply haven’t caught up with current technology. Although we recommend a healthy balance of technology and human interaction, we encourage you to use social media, because it’s such an easy way to feel like you’re part of a community, and this is essential when learning to communicate in a language like a native speaker. Social media also allows you more time than a face-to-face conversations, when you’re learning a language. You have time to think about your responses, research online, and take your time perfecting your fluency.

For many of us, it’s not that easy to add a language class into our busy schedules. Wouldn’t you rather learn a language from your home or office? Wouldn’t you rather learn at your own speed, and on your own schedule? The freedom to work on your fluency at your own pace is what will allow you to accomplish your goals reasonably. Once you gain momentum from that, you can pick up the pace.

What is a mindset when it comes to language fluency? When we talk about a mindset, we’re talking about the ideal frame of mind to be in, in order to be successful in your studies.

In high school, did you ever feel embarrassed, nervous, or anxious in English class? Did you always look at the clock, wishing class was over already? Now, it doesn’t have to be that way. We can change how we interact with English so that we’re successful, and so that it’s an enjoyable experience.

Let’s make a comparison to something you might already enjoy. Do you enjoy playing games? Learning English can be like an enjoyable game! Imagine each new phrase you learn as points that will help you win the game. Each time you practice English on your own, or with friends, is a training session. And each conversation that you participate in is a game. Each time you speak, it’s like trying to score a goal. Sometimes you make a mistake, but at least you tried in the first place! And sometimes, you score a goal. 😃

It’s funny that a lot of English learners want to be able to participate in long conversations with native speakers immediately, without making mistakes. That’s like going straight to the Olympics without any training (definitely not a good idea). To master the “sport” of “playing” English, it’s essential to train your brain and make a lot of mistakes. That’s the only way to know what really works for you!

Could a person win the World Cup just from reading about soccer, without playing any actual games? Probably not! Would you rather that music just be notes written on paper, never hearing or playing the them out loud instead? Of course not! Would you try to learn to swim without getting wet? No way! All of these are like trying to learn English without practicing or ever making a mistake. It’s impossible!

It’s time to get used to practicing, playing a lot of games, making a lot of mistakes, making a lot of new sounds, and getting wet!

II. LISTENING

Listening is so important because it provides key examples of native English speakers and what they sound like. It’s essential if you want to know how you can improve your English to sound more natural and more native-like; meaning, the way people speak in the real world.

If you weren’t born in the United States or raised in an American family, that doesn’t mean you can’t be fluent in American English or sound like an American! EVERYONE can learn English and sound like a native! We want you to learn English so that you feel confident, comfortable, and powerful speaking English in any scenario.

All of us at Go Natural English love languages, and most of us have either studied or are fluent in a language other than English. But, we know that English is the language of the world, and we know how useful it can be to have English fluency as a tool in our life’s toolbox. English is the language of travel, of international business, of information technology, of medicine, of research, of science, and so much more!

Did you ever take a traditional English class before, maybe in high school or at university? Traditional classes tend to waste our time (and money!) by making us learn and memorize vocabulary words and phrases we will never use in a real-life conversation. You could spend months or years studying a language this way, and probably never learn how to speak like a native. And that is simply because the classroom environment is nothing like the real world.

You might have had a class where a lot of reading was done, especially the kind of reading that isn’t exactly current. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with literature and poetry from centuries past (some of it is so beautiful, in fact!), you are not likely to quote any of it in a real-life conversation (unless you’re studying antique literature 🤔). Most of us learning a language these days want to speak to others around us today, not in another century.

I remember having to study “El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha” (known for short as “Don Quixote” in English) by Miguel de Cervantes in my Spanish class, and having to keep an enormous dictionary next to me at all times 📚. I had to look up every other word, because I no idea what was written! I wasn’t studying Spanish as a second language. I grew up speaking both English and Spanish! That’s why learning with these types of materials is never going to be as helpful as learning with materials that are current, common, and colloquial.

Here are a few helpful techniques to get you started practicing your listening skills:

  1. Try listening for specific sounds, and for specific, individual words that you are already understand.
  2. Don’t translate what you hear! Listen and understand their meaning directly from English.
  3. Listen for stressed words, or words that are stronger/clearer/are more high pitched. These words usually carry the most information in a sentence.
  4. Listen for tone and context clues.
  5. Aim to understand between 60-80% of the speech you hear. If you don’t understand anywhere between 10-40% of what you hear, be patient with yourself! You fluency will come and your understanding will grow with every effort you make to take your time, use the right materials, and learn with the right methods and techniques.

III. VOCABULARY

Do you struggle with vocabulary in English? The meaning, pronunciation, and remembering of vocabulary words can be a rather tedious task. Knowing what the difference is between one word and another, especially if they have a similar meaning or pronunciation, can be so confusing! When should you use one word versus another? What is the appropriate usage situation for a specific word? We’re here to help you figure all of it out! 👍

Textbooks are often outdated and the type of speech is academic and dry. You wouldn’t ask a friend to fill in the blank in a conversation, would you? Textbooks are not suited to modern needs, and the classroom doesn’t give you a chance to practice how you would use English in real life. Simply repeating individual words without engaging in a conversation doesn’t work, because you need to understand the words you’re learning through context. Our brains make connections through context, repetition in context, and by connecting what we’re experiencing and hearing.

What does learning through context mean? Context is, essentially, a situation. So, listening to vocabulary as it is used in a real-life situation, in context, in a real-life setting. Great examples to use are listening to short dialogues or conversations (you can do this through YouTube clips, excerpts of TV shows and movies, or listening to short conversations within interviews). Through this method, you don’t learn the meaning of one word on its own. Instead, you learn how to put two or more words together, or even two or more sentences together (this method is also known as chunking). Think of it like putting an outfit of clothing together; you have to figure out what pieces match and go together!

Here are some awesome techniques to use when learning vocabulary (and that you can start using today!):

  1. You need lots of input to increase your vocabulary! This means you need to be exposed to a lot of different English material, whether it be speech, text, music, or any other media you can find.
  2. The CRU method, which stands for connect, repeat, and use. This is the way you teach your brain to make a connection to specific words. Practice makes perfect, as they say!
  3. Don’t just listen or read! You have to write, speak, and use the language every single day. Building your vocabulary is way more important than memorizing grammar rules!

IV. PRONUNCIATION

Why is pronunciation so important? Why is it essential that you leave your insecurities behind and build up your confidence to practice your pronunciation, even if you think you look or sound silly? It’s because practice is the only way to perfect your pronunciation.

In conjunction with your listening skills, you first need to listen, and then you repeat, repeat, repeat! In a classroom setting, as we’ve mentioned before, it’s so easy to become nervous and overwhelmed. No one wants to feel like they’ve been put on the spot — it’s embarrassing! However, the best way to approach your learning journey is to actually make mistakes and be vulnerable, because those are the moments that will help you improve, learn, and grow. Every mistake you conquer will be one less hurdle for you to overcome. 💪

Many teachers don’t actually teach pronunciation; they usually expect students to go for it and imitate. Last time we checked, we’re humans, not parrots!  The way we learn pronunciation successfully is to first learn how words work, and then break down the pronunciation into smaller parts, and not just focusing on how a word is written. This is where the study of linguistics and phonetics come into play. (If you’re interested in going the extra mile, you can find more information on the phonetic alphabet here).

What’s the secret to improving your pronunciation? You have to start thinking in sounds! You have to change your thinking about how words sound to you. Separate the sounds you already know in your native language from what you’re trying to pronounce in English. It takes effort, and you might feel silly because you’re not used to making these new sounds — but, don’t give up! Don’t look at a word and think how you’d pronounce it in your native language. Focus on how they’re supposed to sound in English, and move the knowledge you already have about your native language, or any other language, to the back of your mind for now.

Focus on the sounds instead of the spelling of the words, and how you would pronounce it in other languages, and pay special attention to the stress on each sound. Perfecting the stress on each word is what will make you English more understandable to other English speakers. A great and easy way to practice stressing the correct syllables in each word is to shadow other English speakers. For example, when you’re watching a video (our YouTube videos are a great place to start!), try to imitate what the speaker says, as they’re saying it. Pretend you are a famous actor preparing for a new role in a movie. 😎 Get into character, warm up those mouth muscles and vocal chords, and start making those new sounds!

V. FLUENCY

One last thing to consider before you learn any more English: what is fluency? Is becoming fluent like winning the World Cup of English? It really doesn’t have to be so difficult or exclusive. In fact, fluency is what you say it is! So, what does fluency mean to you? 🤔

The first and most important step to take as you decide you want to become fluent in English is to motivate yourself! You need to supply your own dedication and motivation, and we can help you cultivate a positive learning mindset from there. But, always remember that YOU are the driving force behind your fluency goals. Make sure you are consciously focusing on the positive things throughout your journey to fluency, embrace your mistakes (and learn from them!), and believe in yourself as much as we believe in you!

Next, why are you learning English? Take some time for yourself and think about why learning English is important to you. What is motivating you to learn? The decision to become fluent in English is personal, and it’s extremely important! Plus, we want to know what motivates you!

For example, if you decide you want to learn English so that you can travel, that narrows down the type of things you need to learn. You won’t need to learn the same things as someone studying for the GRE, right? Instead, you’ll probably want to learn how to ask for information, like how to make reservations, how to speak to people in cafés or restaurants, or learn how to ask for help when you’re out shopping. You’ll want to be able to greet people and introduce yourself, and talk about who you are and where you’re from. Basic words for modes of transportation, numbers, times of day, the details of your trip and, of course, food 😋 will also help. These are specific words and phrases relating to a specific topic, and you can learn them easily!

In traditional English classes, which we can all agree don’t really work best, the goal is usually to do things on paper. You read, and then you take a reading comprehension test. You practice writing words, and then complete a best-word-form or a fill-in-the-blanks exercise, or even write an essay. These kinds of exercises don’t help your fluency very much! They can actually hurt your fluency. 😱 How? Taking tests and going crazy about grammar rules actually trains your mind for test-taking, where the goal is to be perfect at filling in the blanks, or matching words, or choosing the correct multiple choice answer. What this trains us to do is to strive for perfection, and not connection with other people.

Think about how you communicate when you’re having a conversation. Do you always choose the proper grammar? Not really! Native English speakers don’t always speak in a perfect, grammatically-correct way. We use informal words, we use double negatives, and we might even mismatch words. That’s how real-life conversations go, and they go quickly! We just want to connect with each other as human beings, and we don’t need perfect grammar to do that.

Once you know why you’re learning English, and you have an idea about the amount of English you need to learn, there are three important techniques that will get you ready for fluency:

  1. Connected speech: When we first start learning a language, we make sure we pronounce every syllable correctly and clearly. Once we’re comfortable with these new words and sounds, we can being connecting them in phrases and sentences, the way a native speaker would. Check out our lesson on connected speech here.
  2. Syllable and phrase level stress: How do you place the correct amount of stress within a word’s pronunciation? And then, once you’re comfortable with placing the correct stress on words, you can graduate up to phrase level stress. Check out our lesson here!
  3. Thought chunking: This is when you group together, or chunk, words that are related into a phrase, and pausing after them. Listening to a lot of English is the best way to practice this. You can also check out our awesome lesson here.

We hope that all of this amazing information will help you build up the confidence and knowledge to succeed on your English fluency journey! Scroll down below to watch our video lessons on each of the 5 pillars discussed above, and you’ll be ready to accomplish all of your goals. We know you will! 🏆

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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