Have you ever learned a new sport? When you speak English, it kind of feels the same…
Learning a language is a really interesting process and sometimes it can help to think about something from a different perspective. I wanted to share a comparison between learning English and learning a new sport to try to explain how speaking uses a different part of the brain, which is why it feels so difficult to speak English in the beginning.
Let’s Learn How to Ski!!
I am Canadian, so I am going to talk about a very popular sport that we enjoy doing in the mountains during the winter. If you decided you wanted to learn how to ski, the best advice would be to get a lesson so you have some knowledge about what you need to do with your body to successfully ski down a hill.
Knowledge or Facts You Need to Ski: The instructor wants to make sure you know how to turn and stop. So, he tells you to put more pressure on your right leg to start turning as soon as you start to go down the hill.
Developing the Skills: The first time you try to do this, you start putting pressure on your leg, but the ski does not turn very much and you fall down to stop. However, after trying to do the same thing several times, you learn how to turn to do a turn and stop!
Comparing Skiing to English Speaking
In order to speak English you need to start with some basic knowledge (which you already have), such as basic pronunciation, some vocabulary and a few grammar rules like how to conjugate a verb.
The ‘knowledge’ of the words and how to put them together in a sentence is information that is stored in one part of the brain. However, when you try to speak English you are trying to do an ‘action’ based on the knowledge you have. You are refering to your English knowledge, one piece at a time, while you try to speak out loud.
Every time that you use a new word or grammar structure while speaking, you are developing your speaking ‘skills’. Skills are developed when you use ‘knowledge’ with ‘action’. At first, speaking is slow and uncomfortable, but the more often that you use the most common words and grammar structures, it becomes easier!
Ski Lesson #2 – Advancing your Skills
Once you have learned how to turn and stop, you need to learn how to connect your turns without stopping. Your instructor will give you more of the ‘knowledge’ that you will need to attempt that activity. As you try to connect the turns, you are thinking about how you are supposed to do the activity until you develop the skills to just do it.
Speaking With Having to ‘Think’
The first time you learn a new skill skiing, you have to think about every single movement because you are trying to apply the knowledge that your instructor gave you to develop a certain skill.
When you first start trying to speak English you will also need to think about every word you use and how to correctly use the grammar until you are comfortable with using those words.
The cool thing is that after you use the same words and verbs over and over again… you don’t have to think about them as much. If you practice speaking enough, you will be able to respond most of the time without thinking about vocabulary or grammar.
Active Vocabulary vs. Passive Vocabulary
Have you ever noticed that when you try to speak, very often you cannot remember a certain word? But, when you hear that same word or you see it while reading, you recognize it. That is the difference between active vocabulary and passive vocabulary.
Active vocabulary is the set of words that you can instantly recall when speaking. You don’t need to stop and remember what the word is before saying it. Having active vocabulary shows that you have practiced speaking and have developed speaking ‘skills’.
Passive vocabulary is the type of vocabulary that you have stored in the ‘knowledge’ department of your brain. You might be able to remember it eventually, but you have to stop your speaking in order to remember it.
Passive vocabulary is basically useless when you are speaking. It is like reading about ‘how to ski’ compared to trying to ski down a hill. The facts you learned about skiing, do not make you a good skier. You need to train your body how to react without thinking.
Once your brain has used vocabulary or grammar it is easier to recall for the next time it is needed. You have started to activate the vocabulary which makes it easier to use every time you need it.
The Fastest Way to ‘Activating’ Your English Knowledge
Trying to speak English is the fastest way to use vocabulary in an active way. The good news is that you can practice speaking about anything and you don’t even need a practice partner. Look up the words you do not know or cannot remember and immediately use them in several sentences.
Start by trying to talk about what you are doing now, what are your plans for later in the week or what you did yesterday.
More Challenging Topics
Watch a video, listen to some audio or read about something. Try to explain what the topic was about. Start with a general summary of 2 or 3 sentences, later try to give as much detail as possible.
When you start to recognize the difference between ‘knowing’ English and ‘using’ English, it can help you understand why it feels so difficult. Keep in mind the comparison to learning a new sport and you should have more patience with the process of developing your speaking skills.
Do you think speaking in English is like a sport? What did you think about this article? Leave a comment below.