Why working harder won’t make you a better English speaker.

Does your job require you to be fluent and effective in English, but you don’t know how?

I mean, your English is okay – but you still can’t express yourself as well as you can when you speak in your native language. You think you sound childish when you speak.

Maybe you think you need more words so that you can choose the best one to ‘fit’ what you’re really trying to say.

You grab a dictionary and start reading. Or you watch some YouTube videos to ‘expand your vocabulary’.

Maybe it works. Maybe you learn new words that better describe what you mean.

But your English still hasn’t improved as much as you need.

So, you learn some more complex grammar rules. And you start to sound a bit like an English professor…

Still your communication hasn’t improved enough to help you in the workplace.

(Maybe it’s even gotten a bit worse).

The truth is that learning to use a language is not about having the largest range of vocabulary and grammar options to choose from. (Well, not only that.)

And if this has been your focus for learning English then you’ve been working hard. Very hard. Maybe even too hard.

But you haven’t been building stronger fluency muscles.

Let me try and show you what I mean.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are training to run a marathon in 6 months time.

You run most days already; you know the basics of running. But you don’t run far – and it’s nothing like the running you will do in a marathon.

The first step you take is to read a book on the strategy for running. Now you understand what you need to do to build up to running a half marathon, and eventually a full marathon.

Now you read a book on someone who has done it for inspiration. And you find your inner motivation.

You look at your shoes. They are old. So, you go and buy some new shoes. You will need proper footwear in order to complete such a big race!

You get in your car (as recommended in the books) and drive the track. You have to know what you will face. Are there hills? Is it paved ground?

Now you’re ready for the race!

But wait, what did you overlook? You forgot to actually run!

The truth is that while the strategy and equipment does help you to run a marathon, it won’t replace the need to build the ability to run through doing the running.

It’s the same in learning a language. In order to improve your English-speaking skills, you need to actually do the speaking.

Regularly. With feedback and support. In small quantities.

Here’s why:

1.     Regularly

Our brain has a remarkable ability to forget. Actually, we need it to do this. If we remembered every moment of every day, we would be unable to function!

But in today’s world, high-stress levels, illnesses and being flooded with information from our phones, internet and televisions means that our brains get overloaded more than ever and regularly ‘drop’ even more things to survive.

If we want to overcome this, we need to approach the situation from a place of understanding. What does it take to lock information into our brains?


Regular repetition.

Like we crammed for our exams at university.

2.     With feedback and support

Not all practice is good. If you are practising the wrong things – that’s what your brain will hold onto.

You need regular practice with someone who will correct your mistakes and model the right kind of English to follow.

While speaking regularly with native speakers is a great way to hear the language being used, I doubt you will get supportive feedback that comes from a background of understanding how people learn languages. Unless you’re talking to a group of native-speaking English teachers…

You don’t want to waste any more time learning the wrong things. It takes significantly more time to unlearn a mistake than to learn correctly the first time.

3.     In small quantities

Language learning takes time. A lot of time.

There’s a lot to learn. And we’ve already seen how often it needs to be repeated for your brain to be able to remember it. It’s a true marathon (without the need for new shoes).

If you want to be able to keep up the regular pace – you need to break it into small amounts. 15 minutes a day is a lot easier to maintain than 1 hour a day. Every day.

And that’s all the time you NEED to keep the memory function working.

Understanding this led me to develop a speaking program built on these exact principles. I have found that voice messages have been the best way to run these programs across time zones and rosters. As a result of technological innovation, people who were previously unable to join can now join. Cool!

I have seen first-hand the transformation that this approach has given to other mining industry professionals! They have grown confident in their skills and developed their own natural style.

And their careers have taken off.

Let’s talk if you want to work on your English skills so you can become a natural English communicator at work!

Leave a Comment