Many students as well as educators think that the key to learn English speaking lies in how correct our grammar is. So, we try to learn the whole system and structure of the English language so we can achieve fluency. However, grammar actually has countless rules. If being fluent in English means mastering phonology, morphology, phonetics, semantics, pragmatics, and other concepts of grammar, then, I believe a lifetime won’t be enough to become a fluent English speaker. But the sad truth is, when it comes to learn English, our schools focus on grammar. Well, don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to say that grammar is of no use. I am simply implying that if you want to be fluent in speaking in English, then mastering grammar is not the solution. Instead, the more effective option is to learn phrases.
- Why learn phrases instead of grammar?
- Learning phrases is easier than learning grammar.
Take for example the language development in a child. At first, he will only be listening. He will only try to figure out what sounds mean. As he gets older, he will learn to make some sounds, not complete words but mere mumbles. More time passes and he will soon learn some words until he can make out phrases. At over five years old, he will already know how to speak short and simple sentences but with main ideas and understandable thoughts. You see, there’s no grammar involved yet, but in a way, he is already able to speak his first language quite well. In fact, he would not even be introduced to grammar until higher grade school.
Similar language learning happens to us adults. We start by listening and then work our way up to words, phrases, and sentences. Since we have been through many English subjects now, I believe we can agree that learning grammar is quite complicated. There are rules and exceptions to the rules that need to be noted. So, rather than stressing ourselves on learning grammar just to speak English well enough, why not switch to an easier process that is earning phrases?
- Fluency means being able to speak or write easily and accurately.
That is what fluency means. Basically, it can be measured by how well you can express yourself smoothly through language. When someone asks you a question and you can provide a good answer easily, no matter if your grammar is on point, then you are already considered a good English speaker. Grammar is not really a requirement.
- Spoken English is not strict.
Especially with the rise of much modern jargon and lingo, spoken English is not very strict. Phrases like, “You comin' or what?” is acceptable and widely used to learn English even if it is not grammatically correct because if the rules in grammar are to be applied, a correct sentence will be, “Are you coming or not?” or “Are you coming or do you have something else to do?” This is also another demonstration of how easier it is to learn phrases than study grammar.
To argue, when it comes to formal learn English, like the ones we use for application letters and other formal documents, grammar should really be studied. But today, the internet already offers many grammar-checking tools so we won’t really need to concern ourselves much when it comes to writing. Unfortunately, we can’t do that in speaking. Checking your sentences on a grammar-checker before speaking them in a conversation would be tedious and not to mention that it is absurd.
- How do you learn phrases?
- Keep a phrase journal.
Writing down phrases that you learned and jotting down beside them what they mean will be a great help. Then, if you have a friend which is quite fluent in English, you can ask him or her if you wrote the correct meaning or context for the phrases you listed in your journal. Why do you need to write the phrases? Well, studies have shown that writing information can make us take a better grasp of it. Seeing them on paper is an effective way of familiarizing ourselves with the phrases.
Here’s a mission I want to set for you. Write 1000 phrases in your journal. Every time you learn English phrase, write it down until you have 1000 phrases and I can assure you that if you have about 1000 phrases readily available on your vocabulary, trust me, you will be a good English speaker, even amazingly fluent maybe.
Well, as the cliché goes, practice makes perfect. So, review your written phrases daily and try to practice saying them in a conversation. For a start, you may choose three phrases on your list and make it a day's goal to use them in your conversation at least once or twice. You're practicing and at the same time, I'm pretty sure that the activity will be fun.
If you also have a friend who is on the same path as you, learning how to speak English well, then team up with that friend and practice together. This is also an opportunity to learn and share more phrases. You can schedule a practice time where you will share the English phrases that you learned in the day or a week if your schedule is quite tight. Then, simply talk with each other using those phrases.
- Listen to spoken English.
As I’ve mentioned earlier on language learning development, listening is naturally the first process. So, open your ears to the conversations around you. I’m not encouraging you to eavesdrop on people’s talk. I’m simply saying that it is quite easy to overhear someone speaking English especially when you have a native language in your community.
Here's a tip, watch English movies. If possible, choose chic flicks, sitcoms, comedy films, or any other movies which have a great deal of natural conversation in them; the ones where the characters would use conversational English while they talk with each other. Listening to their sentences or phrases and watching how they use them will be a great help in your journey.
I also recommend keeping your journal with you while watching movies and maybe write up to 10 phrases you learned in a film.
To summarize the discussion, you don’t need to learn grammar to be a fluent English speaker. Again, I am not saying that learning grammar is not needed. Grammar is taught in schools mainly for literacy skills – reading and writing. But when it comes to speaking, we can adopt a wider approach and one of the most effective ways is learning English phrases.