The compact guide to fluency for struggling language learners – Anthony Metivier

Face it.

You're a language learner, not a perfectionist.

And yet, isn't fluency all about getting it right?

You care about being perceived as intelligent and personable. Just as you are in your mother tongue. And you're smart enough to know that if you want to be taken seriously, you've got to come across as polished and correct.

The problem is, even native speakers can be a bit hazy on the rules. Not only can they often not explain them - they don't even use them.

And searching the Internet for solutions can quickly turn into a black hole dive into weird dictionaries and argumentative forums.

So what's a language learner with limited time and resources to do?

Here's the good news:

There's more than one kind of fluency. And with a little understanding of what they are and how to develop each one, you can boost your fluency beyond your wildest dreams.

Ready to rock your fluency?

The Zen Of Words And The Dojo Of Sound

Most people will tell you that words are individual units of expression. And at some level, this is true.

But not at the level of fluency.

In reality, words are "songified." We sing them and hear them as sung.

As Luca often points out, language is not the sum of individual words. It's a network. And when it comes to speech, words are almost always embedded in phrases

And one phrase is often the key to unlocking another.

That said, don't neglect the power of the individual word. Like smashing an atom, understanding what a single word means - or can mean - can up your game in a flash.

So advanced fluency balances these two approaches. One leverages the power of the other. Get in the flow of songification and they will call each other into existence.

How To Achieve Fluency Like Einstein Thunk Thoughts

The next kind of fluency is the fluency of ideas. Or better put, the fluency of pre-linguistic ideas that can emerge in words and phrases. The fluency of ideas is also the ability to think out loud.

And the way to do this is pretty simple, even if it requires courage. Get on Skype with a tandem partner, sing the phrases in the shower, revise dialogs with your dog.

And learn to think in cliches. That sounds horrid, but the reality is that speakers toss them out like Robins pluck worms from the wet earth. And cliches contain ideas. Often big ones.

As soon as you can, try switching from cliches to communicating the same ideas in direct language.

That's where Einstein comes in. He didn't use a whole lot of cliches. Einstein created them. But he did so from the long term study of the phrases used by his peers and by interacting with other thinkers. He learned how they expressed their ideas and then innovated upon them.

And that's how you can create the fluency of ideas in your language learning journey too.

The Tony Soprano School Of Fluency

Ever watch The Sopranos? At first glance, it's all about a guy dealing with the everyday problems of a married gangster.

But in reality, it's about learning how to express feelings. And because he does most of that learning in the context of psychotherapy, his shrink is teaching him to see how he expresses himself. She listens to his words and then feeds back to him exactly what he just said. And throughout the series, he comes to understand the real meaning of what he says and that helps him act differently and live a better life.

In other words, he develops expressional fluency.

In language learning, you need to do something similar. You need someone who can hear how you're expressing the language and offer feedback. And then you need to correct your Tony Soprano ways.

Here's how::

  • 1
     Get a speaking partner. Record the conversation. Ask them to catch your foibles and give you an example of how to get it right. Ask for slow, mid-tempo and fast "performances" of the words and phrases. Then play them back and mimic them.
  • 2
    Record yourself having a conversation in your mother tongue. Play it back and study how you and your speaking partner express yourselves. Get a portrait of how your native language works. Profile it like a detective profiles the lair of a gangster. And then figure out as many equivalents and near equivalents as you can in your target language and learn them.
  • 3
    Test out your new words and phrases with your tandem partner. Do they make sense? Do they feel right? Do they help you express yourself better in the target language?

Yes or no, working on expression is a great way to deepen your fluency. And it's a lot of fun too.

The Ultimate Fluency Secret

You know what's coming, don't you?

Yes, this is the "just do it" part of this cheerleading post.

But you know what?

It's true!

Nothing happens until you take action. With the exception of meditation, you cannot learn by sitting still.

So get out there and learn in ways that let you sing, think and express your target language. Because every day that you haven't reached fluency, you're missing out on a feast of pleasures from the buffet of human communication.

Anthony Metivier is the founder and editor of the Magnetic Memory Method. Visit Magnetic memory method  for a free video series and worksheets. They'll teach you everything you need to know about improving your memory. All from a language-learning friend who couldn't remember a word until adding mnemonics to the game of fluency. Capiche?

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  • A great site, and a fantastic resource, but I have to pull you up on one thing: “How to think like Einstein thunk thoughts”. The word ‘thunk’ means to make a thudding noise. Somehow I don’t think you are implying that Einstein thudded thoughts, which really wouldn’t make any sense at all. I suspect you meant ‘thought’, as in ‘the past tense of think’. In which case you should use the word ‘thought’. ‘Thunk’ is not proper English usage and should never be used unless you are using it jocularly and for comedic effect. For a site pertaining to learning languages it is even more important to use words correctly.

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