Why is it so Difficult to Speak English Fluently?

Your vocabulary is extensive. You can read even very difficult articles but you can still not talk to especially native speakers without breaking out into a sweat (= getting really nervous). You sometimes simply freeze up (= like vegetables in a freezer) when you want to say something, and your brain might tell you that you have to produce the most perfect sentence in the history of English which is, of course, impossible. Why is it so hard to become fluent in English and master the language?

To answer this question adequately you have to understand that speaking calls for a multilayered set of skills. Your brain has to process what the other person is saying to you, determine what vocabulary to use, how to put the sentences together grammatically correct and how to pronounce everything properly. In addition, you might experience an emotional state very similar to what the theater world calls stage fright. You find yourself performing in front of an audience which includes the people you are talking to and yourself. The latter is your worst enemy here. You might tell yourself that you have to be perfect and want to impress the native speakers. Stress hormones in your blood increase and your performance gets worse especially when you catch yourself making a mistake. This phenomenon inhibits your language performance and can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy with English learners getting more and more discouraged and losing interest in improving their language proficiency. In addition, a lack of proficiency in the usage of phrasal verbs might decrease your level of fluency. Phrasal verbs are extremely important and often have a literal and non-literal meaning plus they incorporate different layers of meaning and are very nuanced. English learners who have problems with phrasal verbs do get stuck a lot. This applies to most students unless they speak a Germanic language.

This is where a two-fold strategy comes in. First, you have to focus on staying positive and changing your attitude. I, once, read that our personality traits and attitudes are simply habits and can be changed with enough determination. This realization is a good starting point. You will not get stuck in a negative mindset thinking that this is simply who you are. Instead, you will start actively working on your attitude step by step getting rid of your stage fright; in turn, this will improve your fluency as well.

Second, you need to focus on incorporating real life English into your life. Many of my clients find this especially challenging since they work for embassies or international organizations where mostly their first language is spoken and live with families that do the same. Here, you will need some discipline. Watch TV shows and movies in English, repeat what the actors and actresses say. Imitate native speakers when you overhear their conversations. Take note of new words and phrases but pay extra attention to the importance of contextualization in English. Practice your phrasal verbs. They are the key to everything in English: listening comprehension, and fluency. Talk to yourself. This might sound weird and funny, but it works. It will help you transition from translating in your head to simply thinking in English. Last but not least, find an English coach to help you with conversation skills. Often speaking is the least practiced skill. Maybe you lack confidence in your speaking ability; or maybe you study at home or at one of the typical language schools that do not allow for enough speaking time and focus on reading, writing, and listening. The latter is still a problem in many school systems all over the world and might still be responsible for your lack of fluency. Thus, the importance of one-on-one conversation practice with an English coach cannot be overstated.

Marike Korn