It is safe for me to assume that everyone reading this is here because they want to improve their English, right? Well, like always, you have come to the right place. Now, is it also safe to assume that most of you have been studying English for most of your lives, but you still feel like you are not fluent? Well, now you know you are definitely in the right place. Sometimes, people who have been studying English for a very long time still are not as fluent as someone who has been studying for just a short time. Why? Well, most likely these people are either not studying hard enough, or they are stuck in a rut from studying too much from a textbook. They have become some type of textbook robot, so that outside, in the real-world, they have no idea how to comfortably communicate. If the latter sounds like you, or if you just want to really make sure you are communicating effectively in English, stay tuned for the top ten things you should avoid saying when speaking English.
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1. “I can’t speak English well.”
I cannot express to you the number of times I have heard students say this. It’s by far the most common phrase among the English language learners I have come across. So, why shouldn’t they say “I can’t speak English well”, when that very well may be true? Well, as a teacher, whenever we hear you say “I can’t speak English well”, do you know what we teachers actually hear? We here “I’m not confident in my English, and I don’t want to put in the effort to be confident, so don’t expect me to do well.”Therefore, the person who you are talking with will already expect you to make mistakes. Moreover, if you keep saying that you “can’t speak English well,” you will forever feel like a beginner both to yourself and to those you are speaking to.
Now, this has a type of domino effect because you are saying you can’t speak English well, people are assuming you will make a lot of mistakes, and you are constantly being identified as a beginner English language learner. What kind of effect do you think that will have on your confidence? I’m sure not a very great one, right? Your confidence will just get lower and lower. So, please, kick this statement of “I can’t speak English well” out the figurative window. You can speak English well, you just need to put in the effort to do so.!
2. “I know my pronunciation is bad…”
Now, I know you have said this before, right? Come on now, you can be honest. I too am bilingual, but not perfect yet in my second language, and I know for a fact that I have said this before as well. However, I learned that whenever I said this, I was basically just telling people “Oh, you probably won’t be able to understand me, and I’m aware of that, so please just listen to me and try to understand, but don’t correct me.”
When you tell someone your pronunciation is bad, they assume that they won’t understand you and they will assume that you do not need, nor want, help fixing it, so when you make mistakes, they let them slide. In turn, you go on thinking that the mistakes you made are correct, and then the more you use this excuse, the more your brain will just automatically start using these incorrect pronunciations, and not even make an effort to improve them. This makes it harder for you to correct your mistakes in the future. So, it is better to just avoid this phrase all together.
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3. “I don’t know enough vocabulary.“
This is another super popular phrase amongst the English language learning community. I hear this quite often from my students. Now, do you want to know what we English teachers hear when our students say this? We hear “ Oh, I don’t know how to express myself in the vocabulary words that I know.” This is dangerous to keep saying because if you say it enough times, your brain is going to believe it, and you won’t use the vocabulary you actually do know. Why? Well because you keep saying you don’t know it so you lose confidence and eventually, forget how to use the word all together.
Also, the person you’re talking with will, once more, assume that you are a beginner. You cannot give them that edge because if you are constantly being considered a beginner, constantly saying you don’t know vocabulary, you will remain frustrated. After all, there are thousands and thousands of vocabulary words to learn, but on average, we native English speakers only use about 2000 of them. There’s always something new to learn, so don’t give up and use this “I don’t know enough vocabulary” as an excuse.
4.”__________ is better than me. “
“I will never be as good as ________ (insert name here)”. Ah, comparison, it’s human nature, I get it. Maybe you are comparing yourself to a fellow student, coworker, or friend, but by saying “so and so is better than me,” what you’re basically saying is “wow, they are so good, and I will never be that good, so why should I try?” You’re focusing on the improvements of others more so than your own improvements. This will make you feel discouraged and frustrated. This will put more pressure on you not to make mistakes, but then again, everyone makes mistakes. So, saying “_______ is better than me” will only frustrate you more when you make mistakes because now, your brain has this type of competition mentality, and that shouldn’t be the case. Everyone learns differently, and at their own pace, so stop comparing yourself.
Even as a native English speaker, I learn new words, sayings, slang, and phrases almost every day, and I know there are plenty of people out there who have a larger vocabulary than I do. Do I get frustrated? No. I just learn what I can, whenever I can. When you change your mindset from “I have to do this, I have to be better, I need to know more..” to “I will study, I will learn, I will eventually become like a native speaker,” suddenly, studying becomes much more enjoyable because you’re working towards a long term goal. You are not just cramming for some test, or for the satisfaction of saying you’re better than your classmate James. You’re doing something to better yourself, and that, to me at least, makes such a difference.
5. “I will never speak English fluently”
Yep, you’ve guessed it. Teachers have their own interpretation of this phrase as well. Do you know what we hear when we hear students say “I will never speak English fluently”? We hear “ I don’t believe I am smart enough to speak English.” Yikes! This is harsh but true. Now, if you think you’re not smart enough to do something, then you will never recognize your own improvements, and you will become lazy to learn. You won’t apply the techniques needed to help you become fluent because, well, you don’t believe that you can be fluent. Saying this will, yet again, frustrate and discourage you. Yeah, maybe you’re not fluent yet, but you will be if you just keep studying and never settle for less. Instead of staring off the conversation with a negative note by saying “I will never speak English fluently,” you should advertise to anyone and everyone that you are learning to speak English like a native speaker. Saying this will make you more determined to speak English, allow others to know you’re still learning, and have others hold you accountable. It’s a win-win for all.