As an English teacher, I’ve spent a lot of time answering questions about learning English. I’ve noticed that there are several commonly held beliefs about fluency that are, in fact, misconceptions.
In this post, we’re going to explore some of the myths about becoming fluent in English:
- “You can become fluent by playing on an app for ten minutes a day.”
- “You need to take an English class at a language school.”
- “It’s easy — you can become fluent in English quickly.”
- “You need to focus on grammar.”
- “Becoming fluent in English will be expensive.”
- “It’s boring.”
- “You shouldn’t make mistakes.”
- “You should be constantly challenged.”
- “You need to visit an English-speaking country.”
1. You can become fluent by playing on an app for ten minutes a day.
I actually love Duolingo. I’ve never tried Babbel, but I’m sure it’s great too. These apps certainly have a place in a person’s language learning journey. They’re especially useful for beginners who are starting with nothing and want to learn a language in a fun, relaxed way.
But they aren’t a way to get fluent in a language.
They’re just not built for it. While these apps do use all four skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing), They are not an efficient way to get to fluency. And especially not for 10 minutes a day.
I’m not saying these apps aren’t useful—they can be. But it will be very difficult to achieve fluency from them.
2. You need to take an English class at a language school.
We’ve addressed this in a previous post: It’s absolutely possible to become fluent in English without language classes.
What you do need is exposure to native-level language input. I am, of course, an especially big fan of listening to native speakers in podcasts, but reading English books and speaking with other native speakers are also great.
Taking a language course can help you on your way to fluency. And so can a tutor. But it’s a myth that you must take English classes to become fluent.
3. It’s easy—you can become fluent in English quickly.
We know some people that claim to reach fluent levels of a language in 3 months or less. It might be possible, but it would require a lot of work and a lot of dedication.
It’s much more realistic to expect it to take years. In my training to become an English teacher, they distinguished between two types of language: language for social situations and language for academic purposes. They explained that it takes between 1 and 3 years to become fluent in a language for social situations. (And between 5 and 7 years to be fluent in academic language).
Learning English is like running a marathon: you just have to keep going for a long time. But you’ll get there eventually.
4. You need to focus on grammar.
One of the most common myths about becoming fluent in English is that you need to memorise advanced grammar rules. Intermediate language learners can become preoccupied with trying to figure out when to use what tense.
For example, many learners struggle to understand the difference between the present perfect and the present perfect continuous. There is a difference between them, but they can often be interchanged without changing the meaning. “I’ve lived in France for 10 years” and “I’ve been living in France for 10 years” mean essentially the same thing.
It can feel hard and confusing.
But here’s a secret: you actually don’t have to study grammar to learn it. You can pick it up through exposure to language. It can be easier and more interesting that way.
To be fluent in English, you do need to know the grammar basics and to speak without a bunch of errors. But you don’t need to be a grammar expert. And you don’t need to learn it through grammar exercises. Listening to podcasts can be just as effective.
5. Becoming fluent in English will be expensive.
There are a ton of applications, software, and language learning materials available to you. It can be tempting to think you need to invest a significant amount of money in these materials to ever get to fluency.
But you don’t. Especially at an intermediate level, you can find lots of materials to use that are either free or inexpensive. These can include talking to native speakers on social media, reading online English articles and blogs, and podcasts.
It can be worth it to invest a little. For example, Leonardo English offers podcasts for free, but we also offer transcripts, key vocabulary and more for just a little extra. We think we’ve made it so that we can offer a lot of value while also keeping our prices fair. The serious learner might benefit from these kinds of investments.
But even if you’re investing in materials, it doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s absolutely doable to become fluent in English without breaking the bank.
6. It’s boring.
I think lots of people believe that learning English is boring because of the way we teach it. We sit students in classrooms and give lectures on grammar. That is boring.
Choosing materials that aren’t interesting is one of the most common mistakes that people make when learning English.
But it doesn’t have to be boring, just choose interesting activities instead. The beauty of learning English is that you can actually learn about anything you want. Think of all the great artists, creators, and thinkers that worked in English. You have the opportunity to learn about any or all of them! If you are bored learning English, you’re doing it wrong.
Don’t settle for boring English lessons or grammar exercises. Choose exercises and activities that interest you.
7. You shouldn’t make mistakes.
Many English learners are obsessed with accuracy. They never want to make mistakes.
But there are two problems with this. The first is that we must make mistakes to learn. Making mistakes is part of the process. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning.
The second reason focusing on accuracy is a problem is that it can keep you from fluency. If you’re too worried about your mistakes, you may not speak fluidly—or at all.
It’s a myth that you have to speak with complete accuracy to speak fluently. Instead, get comfortable with your mistakes. Mistakes are how you’ll learn.
8. You should be constantly challenged.
Another myth is that, to get fluent, you always have to feel like what you’re doing is hard.
Yes, we have to challenge ourselves to grow. If something is too easy, you won’t learn from it. But it doesn’t always have to be really hard, either. If you choose something too difficult for you, you won’t enjoy it and you won’t continue doing it.
Instead, find a sweet spot. Choose activities that are challenging but not too difficult. Aim for finding comprehensible input: you want texts or podcasts that you can understand the majority of, but that have some new words or phrases.
Don’t try to learn too much too fast.
9. You need to visit an English-speaking country.
Immersion in an English-speaking country definitely helps English learners, but you don’t need immersion to get fluent.
The benefit of immersion is that it gives you lots of opportunities to use a language; it often forces you to use a language.
But you can give yourself those same opportunities without living in an English-speaking country - you can create your own English immersion course.
Obviously, podcasts by natives help. But you can also watch YouTube videos. You can listen to songs. You can find an english-speaking group on Meetup. You can even DM strangers on twitter and have a conversation with them.
You don’t need to travel to access native speakers.
Don’t let these false beliefs about learning English deter you. You can become fluent in English with dedication, practice, and the right resources. And it can be fun.
Find things you like to do, whether it is listening to native speakers, watching them, reading, or even speaking to people over the internet. Once you find things you like to do, keep doing them.
If you practice regularly over a long period of time, you’ll reach fluency in English.