There are many who can read English newspapers, magazines, and novels effortlessly, and, equally important, understand those as well. But when it comes to speaking English, they come a cropper.
There are also many who can understand English content, say news on television, but again, they can barely utter few coherent sentences in the language.
Read and listen… but unable to speak!
Have you seen this happening around you?
Also read How To Improve Vocabulary And Spoken English.
Understanding the Difference Between Comprehending the Language and Speaking it
This chasm between understanding the language and speaking it emanates because the two are fundamentally different from each other:
1. Speaking, unlike reading and listening, is an active skill.
You need to think of words on the fly, in a split second when speaking. You don’t have the luxury to take a pause for even few seconds to think of what you want to say next. Right?
Therefore, if you haven’t had enough speaking practice behind you, you’ll struggle to come up with those apt words on the fly.
To give an example, try saying following words out loud: rapport and serendipitous. If you haven’t pronounced these words often – and most wouldn’t have – you’ll struggle to speak them. Why? Because you haven’t got used to blurting out the sounds of these words. Well, these may be bit advanced words for some, but for someone who barely speaks the language, even the common ones will be more than a handful.
Besides, spoken English requires you to pause – some long, some short – often and lay varying emphasis – speak some parts louder than the others – on different parts of a sentence. You’re also more liberal in the use of contractions, slangs, and phrasal verbs in spoken English than in written English.
You say, “Why’re you so late today?” and not, “Why are you so late today?”
You say, “I’m gonna come late tonight.” and not, “I am going to come late tonight.”
The former expression in both the examples is common in spoken English, but the latter is more common in written English.
If you are habituated to only reading and listening, you’ll miss these aspects of spoken English.
3. When speaking, you face people.
You may hesitate. This may make you nervous. You may fail to grasp someone’s point. These interactions too can influence your communication, which doesn’t happen in a largely passive reading or listening.
How to bridge the gap between understanding and speaking?
Skills are best improved through practice.
So, speak more. Show the discipline and willpower to not fall back to communicating in your native language even if speaking in English feels uncomfortable. Don’t always hang out with friends in your comfort zone where you’re forced to blend in and speak in native language. Step out, join new groups, and start conversing in English. You don’t need a crowd to do that. Two or three like-minded friends are enough.
To take your practice to the next level, you can even talk solo, but loudly. Take up any topic that interests you. Or just speak out how your day went. If people around you are a deterrent to speaking solo (they may think you’re crazy speaking alone), switch off your mobile and pretend that you’re talking to someone.
You may be surprised, but speaking alone renders a lot of benefits compared to when speaking to someone. A review of 35 studies showed that mental practice alone improves performance significantly. (Mental practice means imagining oneself performing the task.) Speaking to oneself is certainly far superior to just the mental practice.
So, get out of your comfort zone and start speaking. You’ll see the gap between your understanding of the language and the ability to speak disappear. Check out Importance of English in Everyday life.
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