I understand English, but I can’t speak it well. Why?

I understand English, but I can’t speak it well. Why?

This is actually a very common problem among English learners, and there are many reasons for it. Most English learners find that the reason they are having trouble speaking is because they tend to focus too much on the grammar rules, draw too many parallels with their mother tongue as they speak, or simply feel anxious.

If you feel this way, too, it’s OK and it’s not your fault. The good news is you will definitely improve if you keep practicing.

As an English learner, you’ve spent a great deal of time and effort in order to be able to understand the language – be it practicing grammar, vocabulary, idioms, or colloquialisms. To speak well, you need to practice just as much, if not more.

Think about it this way. You may theoretically know everything about running – how to breathe correctly, what shoes to wear, how to stretch, pace yourself, etc. But you won’t become a good runner just by knowing all of that – you need to get out there and run regularly, so that you can gradually improve. The same goes for speaking.

One thing you need to remember that having difficulty communicating in English isn’t because your abilities are somehow inferior to others. You just haven’t spent enough time practicing that skill. Speaking time tends to be limited in English classes. Most of the time is spent on explaining the lesson, taking notes, listening, and exercises. Speaking typically gets the least amount of attention.

By repeating a classroom routine over and over, your brain gets used to a certain type of activities: reading and extracting meaning, listening and getting used to the voice of your instructor, filling in the blanks, etc. In other words, your brain is in a “reading and writing mode.”

During these activities, you accumulate a great deal of passive grammar and vocabulary. The only way to activate all that knowledge is by speaking and practicing a lot, so that you start getting used to natural speech patterns. This is why, when choosing an English instructor, choose one that will act more like your speaking partner rather than a traditional teacher.

The take home message is this: the only way to improve speaking is by speaking… a lot! Do make sure to dedicate most of your learning time to it if you are looking to improve that skill.

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