3 Secrets to Mastering Spoken English!
Good morning New Channel Family! We hope you are safe and well—and using this time fruitfully to hone your English with many of the online programs New Channel now has. English is important to you, and your career, but it’s also important to help you tell China’s story to the world.
And speaking of English, today I want to tell you 3 No Fail Secrets to Improving Oral English!
First of all—are you motivated to improve your Spoken English? If yes, hold your hand up until I ask the next question. Is your hand up? Now, keep your hand up if you spend at least 20 minutes a day practicing, aloud, your spoken English.
Wow—even from here I can see hands go down! If your hand went down, you are not motivated!
“But I am motivated,” some students complain. “I just have no time or environment.”
Nonsense! If you were motivated, you would find time or create the environment. What exactly is motivation? We cheapen the word to mean “hope” or “desire,” but that is only part of it. Motivation is not just daydreaming. The world is full of daydreamers—like people around the world who talk about ending poverty but do nothing about it. In China, however, a core belief has been that a modestly prosperous Socialist society cannot coexist with poverty—so China has fought poverty since Liberation in 1949; now that is motivation.
So motivation is the internal and external forces that arouse enthusiasm and persistence to pursue a goal.
Desire is important, but if you do not persist it is not motivation, just wishing, or daydreaming.
(I’m xiwanging I can improve my English.)
MBA students told me, “We really have no time!” So I encouraged them to speak to each other in only English during the 20 minute walk to the dorm, or during a 20 minute break. “We’ll do it!” they said. But after a few minutes, they were back to using Chinese. “We’re tired,” they said. “We need the rest.”
“I do understand,” I said. “But if you were truly motivated, this would be a priority and you’d make the time daily for it. And not a lot of time! Many people start out with a couple hours a day and quickly burn out. Better to set a smaller, reachable goal that you can stick to. Learn a little but use it a lot.
Marathons teach a lot about motivation. Every year, the day after the Xiamen marathon, many people are out running because they watched the race and want to run it themselves next year. A week later, fewer people are running. After a month, the only ones running each morning are those who run the marathon every year anyway because they have motivation. So, they have persistence.
But I have met some Chinese language learners who did have motivation. In 1988, I met Professor Ji Yuhua, who is now famous even outside China. His English was as good as mine. Well, David Symington at New Channel might say it was better than mine; David is from England and speaks real English; I’m from the US and only speak American.
Professor Ji had never been overseas and he had few foreign friends, but every day he listened to audio tapes and radio and repeated it. He was busy but he practiced his English, aloud, while doing other things—walking, cycling, cooking or cleaning (he was henpecked 妻管嚴, like me). Today, if you see someone talking to themselves, you assume they aren’t crazy; they’re just talking on a phone. Back then, we didn’t have cell phones. We barely even had landline phones. So when people saw Ji walking down the road talking aloud to himself, they probably thought he was crazy—especially when he answered himself!
Ji was very busy but he creatively made time, and made an environment. Today, he has taught on CCTV and has traveled to many countries to tell China’s story in English—even singing Chinese opera in English!
I remember MBA Professors who spoke good English asking me how to get their children to learn English.
I think they just hoped I’d teach them, but I asked them, “Do you speak to your children in English?”
“Oh, no!” they’d say. “They don’t want to talk in English to their parents!”
They weren’t really motivated, just wishful. But Prof. Ji was so motivated for his 3-year-old daughter to learn English that he only spoke to her in English, even if she cried.
“How cruel!” Chinese neighbors said. “How will she ever learn Chinese?
“Nonsense!” he’d say. “Her mom and grandparents speak Chinese; other children speak Chinese. I’m the only one who only speaks English to her!”
Now that is motivation!
So the first secret to improving spoken English is motivation—which is desire plus persistence. But there is another very important secret!
Many students ask me, “Professor Brown, how can I improve my spoken English?” They’re looking for some trick or secret—so I tell them the secret.
“Do you really want to know the secret?” I asked.
“Yes, I do! Please tell me!”
I lower my voice, look around, and say softly: “The secret to improving your Spoken English is to…SPEAK ENGLISH!”
Chinese, like language students around the world, have two problems. One, they lack motivation to persist long-term. But two, they spend most of their time reading and writing; they don’t speak aloud. If you’d learned Chinese that way, you would not be speaking Chinese today!
Ten hours a day of reading and writing will not improve your spoken English one bit because Spoken English is a physical activity. You have to speak aloud, move your mouth and tongue to get used to the motions. That’s why Prof. Ji’s English was perfect—he listened to English all day, regardless of what he was doing, and repeated everything aloud!
Of course, Prof. Ji is a smart guy—but if you learned a first language, you can learn a second one. But you have to learn the second spoken language the same way you learned your first—by speaking it aloud, unafraid of making mistakes. Do this and you will improve. 100% guaranteed. The best proof is my granddaughter.
When my granddaughter Kate was only 3, she spoke Chinese, English and Spanish because my son Matthew only spoke Chinese to her, his wife, who studied medical Spanish, only spoke Spanish to her, and other children spoke English. Of course, she did mistakes. I remember her using all 3 languages in one sentence: I want to chuan zapatos—I want to wear shoes. But who cares about mistakes? That’s how you learn, and if someone laughs at your mistakes, that’s their problem, not yours.
Mistakes are natural. I remember when Matthew was 3, he asked me, “Dad, how do you say “cai” in Chinese?”
“Matthew, cai is Chinese!”
He said, “ Hum, how do you say it in English?”
When I drove 40,000 km around China in 1994, in remote Gansu and Sichuan, I met two young men who both spoke great English, better than university students, even though neither had finished high school and neither had ever met a foreigner! Their secret?
They dreamed of learning English, even though they never thought they’d be able to use it, so they learned it exactly the same way as Prof. Ji—listening to audio all day and repeating, aloud, what they heard.
I was so impressed by these youth. I think China should scour the countryside for such talented youth and give them opportunities.
In conclusion, those are two Secrets to learning any spoken language. You need motivation—which isn’t just wishing, hoping or xiwanging—and motivation includes persistence. And you need to get your nose out of the books and learn to speak English by SPEAKING English.
But there is one last secret, and this is why New Channel is important. Unless you are extremely disciplined (do you spend at least 20 minutes a day on English?), then you, like most people, need some external accountability.
It is hard to stick to a goal alone, just as it is easier for a marathon runner to finish the race if he has someone with him to encourage him to keep up the pace. In the same way, it is good to have someone who will ask you, “How have you done today? This week?” This can be your New Channel teacher or classmates, or friends and family with whom you’ve shared your goals.
If you really want to consistently improve your English, I dare you to make yourself accountable to someone.
Motivation, method (improve spoken English by speaking English!), and accountability. These three, and being consistent—learn a little and use it a lot—and you too will master English like Prof. Ji, the youth in Gansu or Sichuan, or my 3-year-old granddaughter.
And improving English will not only help you with your career, regardless of what field you pursue, but also help you to better tell China’s story to the world!
Stay healthy and safe.