To begin with, I will give a few facts that once contributed to the expansion of my personal horizons.
One Moscow acquaintance grew up in New York in the 70s: her father worked as a Soviet specialist at the UN. Somehow they watch a humorous program on American TV: she, a teenager, laughs – her father does not understand anything, although he passed some unthinkable tests and spoke the language perfectly.
Since then, her work has been connected in one way or another with English. In the translation agency where we met, she was an editor – she proofread already made translations for errors. I knew that, among other things, she read English classics in the original and I was sure that she spoke no worse than Russian. And then he accidentally overheard her talking to an Englishman for half an hour. I was shocked: she turned out to be extremely poor, indiscriminate speech. Almost no stable phrases or idioms – she simply conveyed the thought so that she was understood (in the article “On the Development of Speaking Skill”, I call this the first level of speech development).
At the same bureau, the translator somehow received a severe reprimand from the editor-in-chief for the incorrect use of the simplest verb for professionals to withdraw. Once this translator thought that he understood the word from the context, and was too lazy to clarify in the dictionary. So it flew years later for a fundamental semantic error.
A quite sensible Russian girl lived in England married to an Englishman for more than 10 years. Asking the child where the toy dinosaur is, she made 2 (two) mistakes in pronouncing the word dinosaur. And the word is common, even has figurative meanings.
A resident of the state of Virginia, 45 years old, without special features (specially specified from his acquaintances) did not know the well-known military term “intelligence” – reconnaissance. It turned out, however, that he knew the abbreviated colloquial version – recon.
Adult native speakers do often not know English words that are considered elementary among our professionals. And two familiar Americans, 59 years old, former classmates, both did not know that the verb swim has a 3rd form of swum.
Wrong spelling of words there is the same problem as ours. And the use of words in the wrong meanings – obtuse instead of abstruse or resemble instead of resent – is a separate issue altogether.
In all the above examples, we are talking about people who speak English at a very high level, but in different ways. What option do you need?
Myth #1. “If I find myself in a language environment, I will speak quickly and well”
The myth is somehow continued to be used for relatively honest taking money from the population, although professionals are already tired of telling how people live there for 10-20 years, but confidently cope only with everyday conversations and in their work. It often seems to us that visiting workers, minibus drivers speak Russian quite well. Within the profession, yes. It is unlikely that it will be possible to fully discuss an abstract topic with them. Give friends and relatives who are going to buy a course “in a language environment” to read here and here.
Myth #2. “If a person knows a foreign language, he can speak it”
Not always. In practice, “fluent English” is often mistakes of the level of “my yesterday to go to the market” and fluent speech only on everyday topics. An abstract topic is a stupor.
Unusual topics are difficult even for native speakers. Ask someone to describe in words (on the phone, for example) the acrobatic “wheel” element that we all did in PE class. Popcorn just prepare in advance. When a non-professional speaks a foreign language, he goes through such agony all the time.
If the master of sports of international class in sprinting is closed in an apartment for a couple of months, he will lose his form. Does this mean that he is no longer a master of sports of international class? No, he will recover in a short time. In the same way, a good translator can partially lose his speaking skills, while continuing to know the language perfectly and translate in writing INTO a foreign language from his native one.
Talking face to face with a native speaker of a foreign language is stressful, and in a stressful situation, only what is learned comes out to absolute automatism. People with a boxing rank in a street fight sometimes forget about the skills they have received and beat like they once did in their yard. I remember myself about 15 years ago, when I was already reading English classics in the original with might and main, and in a conversation with a native speaker I forgot everything in the world and used, God forbid, 5% of my knowledge.
Myth #3. “Language barrier” that needs to be “break”, “remove” or “overcome”
“Language barrier” is when the parties literally speak different languages.
For selfish purposes, by prior agreement, this expression was attached to another, mythical meaning. Often people who know a couple of thousand words and phrases, who have some idea of grammar, as a rule, of an associative nature, believe that they already know the language somehow, only this “language barrier” interferes. And they are looking for where to “remove” it.
A Russian person will never say “the girl ran” in her life: the grammar of the native language, as they say, is written in the subcortex and all available brain resources are only busy searching for the right words. However, everyone has situations when even in Russian it is difficult to find words. I will reveal a terrible secret: it is difficult even for professionals to choose words in a foreign language. Constantly something “spins on the tongue”, but there is no time to remember and in the end you use something simpler.
The grammar of a foreign language “on the subcortex” is not written down. Therefore, when you speak it, two loads fall on you at the same time: the choice of words and grammar control. Add here the stress of fear of seeming an idiot – that’s the whole “language barrier” for you. Reality is scarier.
Myth number 4. “A native speaker should teach a foreign language”
One of the most ridiculous myths. The native speaker DOES NOT UNDERSTAND how his Russian-speaking student thinks. Those moments that seem obvious to the carrier, on which he does not even consider it necessary to focus attention, are never obvious to the student. People do not always understand the speech of the interlocutor, even being native speakers of the same language. And the carriers of different …
But this myth helps to sell courses in England and the USA, classes with native speakers in Russia. It goes well together with a fairy tale about how “easy” small children begin to speak.
Any comparisons with how children learn language advertising demagoguery from start to finish. They work perfectly other learning mechanisms. Teenagers can’t do that, and even more so adults. And even these mechanisms will work only if you talk to the child a few (again – some!) hours per day. Up to 5-6 years old, the child is constantly making HUGE efforts, trying to figure out the surrounding chaos. Understand how to speak correctly, how to understand adults. And already at 7 he completely forgets what he had to go through. If it were as simple as the language school ads, there would be a lot of people around us who speak five languages. In the diasporas of English-speaking countries, by the way, there are a lot of young people who speak both English and the language of their parents equally poorly.
Myth number 5. English is different
Business, conversational, for passing IELTS, TOEFL, Unified State Examination, etc. In reality, there is only one English that needs to be specially studied under the guidance of a teacher. All these “business” and “conversational” are based on the same principles for constructing a phrase, even the words are almost the same!
If a person knows these words and principles, he will master “business” English for simple office work in a few days without any courses. And for the successful passing of the international exam or the exam, it will be enough to spend 1-2 weeks studying the requirements of this exam.
Differences in educational material are inevitable only with highly specialized training. Do you want to work as a lawyer in England? Yes, you will need a special program and a teacher, ideally. But you will study not so much English as jurisprudence: the complex legal language is based on exactly the same principles as everyday speech. And without understanding these principles, you cannot even to begin learn complex legal language. An account manager in an American IT company needs serious “business” English skills, but! He will need training not in the field of language, but in the field of IT. General English will suffice.
Myth #6 “Now everything is on YouTube!”
YouTube is full of bright videos on simple lexical and grammatical topics. There will be progress from watching such videos, but only quantitative progress, not qualitative.
The fact that you pick up words and expressions will not teach you the language – just as, for example, nothing can replace a live sensible teacher at the initial stage of studying quantum mechanics. You can watch popular science lectures on quantum mechanics as much as you like, but it will be very difficult on your own, without a mentor, to build a base for working with such a huge array of complex information. It’s the same with languages - most people still need a teacher at the initial stage.
Myth #7 “Waiting for Critical Mass”
All of Moscow learns this English all the time: they get to know native speakers, they go to conversation clubs, they watch TV shows without translation. And everyone is waiting for a qualitative breakthrough. They expect that at some point a critical mass will accumulate, quantity will turn into quality, something will click, and they will finally “master” the language. Years go by, but that moment never comes.
Half of the people believe that grammar, the principles of constructing an English phrase, is something that will come by itself. The other half believes that they already know the grammar at a sufficient level, and everyone repeats the mantra in unison: more practice is needed! Then it turns out that practically no one knows the real grammar, including many teachers. The real one is when you not only know HOW, but also understand WHY. Textbooks, by the way, almost never talk about it.
In that video I show by examples that the problem is not a lack of so-called practice, but that even people with an Upper Intermediate level sometimes do not fully understand the structure of even elementary English sentences, not to mention more complex ones.