Just this week a new student signed up with me and she said something I’d like to share with you,
“I will never be fluent in English.”
Ouch! She continued by saying she’s been studying for a very long time and feels like she’s been running around in circles getting nowhere.
When I moved from Canada to Spain almost a quarter of a century ago I knew four words in Spanish: Dos cervezas por favor. And I couldn’t even say those right. So how did I get from zero to being fluent (TV and radio appearances, magazine articles)? I chunked.
What is that? Chunking is breaking a big thing down into smaller pieces. The process involves understanding the smaller tasks and putting them on a timeline. Reaching these mini goals is rewarding and keeps you focused, making you hungry for more victories.
I discovered this method while studying Theatre Direction at university. Think about your fluency as opening night. What has to be done in the weeks and months prior to the big show? The actors have to learn their lines, the costumes have to be made, the set has to be built, posters and programs have to be designed and printed … and as you can imagine, all these tasks have to be executed in a specific order. It’s so much easier to do this by working backwards.
Perhaps the best way to start is with a good, old-fashioned pencil and a piece of paper. Brainstorm all the things you have to do to reach fluency. Here are a few things that may be on your list:
- Look for a good teacher
- Learn the irregular verbs
- Master the sounds in English (the sounds are the building blocks)
- Amass vocabulary
- Learn what the different verb tenses are for (we use the tenses to express more than just time)
- Join a conversation group
This list has very general concepts on it but you should make yours as specific as possible. For example, ‘amass vocabulary’ could be ‘learn 5 new words every day.’
Next draw a line on your piece of paper and write ‘FLUENCY’ at the far right end. Now put all the points on your list in chronological order along the timeline. The following step is to determine the regularity with which you will be performing these tasks. For example, if you do your research, you will only have to look for a good teacher once, but you will have to learn some new words every day to keep up the momentum. So now go to your agenda (the one you use for work) and load all your tasks onto it. When that little bell goes off … do it!
Directing a play is a lot like learning a language. You start out with a few words, you go through a process and then you amaze your audience. It’s tempting to dream about the great reviews while you’re still rehearsing, but in reality this only distracts you from your goal. By focusing on each step, the work gets done in a logical sequence ... and I emphasise ‘gets done.’
Start brainstorming your list right now. Just grab any old scrap of paper and write down the first things that come to your head. Stuck for ideas? Why not check out the ‘Speak English Once and for All’ facebook group?
Break a leg!
ps: ‘break a leg’ is a theatre expression that means ‘good luck.’ It’s considered bad luck to say ‘good luck!’