An Olympian is someone who competes in the Olympics. An Olympian is someone who has spent a long time preparing and training. He wants to be the best in the world and win a gold medal.
What do learning English and competing in the Olympics have in common?
You have a goal, too. You have been studying and learning English for a long time, too. You want to improve your speaking. You want to speak English more fluently. You want to feel more confident speaking English.
Here are three things that you can learn from an Olympian on how to reach your goal.
1. You have to practice.
Speaking is the result of three important and equal parts:
- knowing the right words (vocabulary)
- putting the words in the right order (grammar)
- saying the words properly (pronunciation)
You learn vocabulary and grammar by reading, listening, and studying sentences. You learn pronunciation by listening and imitating the sounds you hear.
In other words, you have to practice.
Michael Phelps is an American swimmer. He won 6 medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, and he has won 28 Olympic medals in total.
When Michael Phelps stands at the edge of the pool before a race, he doesn’t think, “What should I do with my arms? “When should I breath?” or “What should I do with my legs?”
He knows what to do because he has done it thousands of times. He practices every day. He swims a lot. He runs. He eats healthy food to help his body. He goes to the gym and does exercises to increase his strength in his arms and his legs. He does all this to make himself swim faster.
Sure, sometimes practicing is boring! It’s not always fun and easy, but it is what we need to do to reach our goals.
Before you can speak fluently, you need to know a lot of words and you need to know how to use them in a sentence. You learn new words and sentences by reading and listening. (Remember that not all words are equal, and you should focus on learning the most common words in English first.) You can learn how to use words in a sentence by learning collocations. You can learn how to say words in a sentence by listening to natural spoken English and imitating, or copying, the sounds that you hear.
The right words will not magically come out of your mouth in the right order with the right pronunciation just because you want them to.
Related: How to Learn English
2. You need to develop “muscle memory.”
Simone Biles is an American gymnast. She won four gold medals and a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. She does a lot of jumps and flips in the air. She has practiced these jumps and flips thousands of times.
When she begins her routines, she doesn’t think “Where should I put my hands?” or “What should my body do in the air?” She has practiced her routine so many times that her body just knows what to do. She doesn’t have to think about it.
This is called muscle memory. It’s a memory in your brain of the way your muscles move.
A muscle /ˈmʌsəl/ is the part of your body that connects one bone to another bone and helps you move a part of your body.
Can you ride a bicycle? You learned how to ride a bicycle when you were young. Even if you don’t ride a bike for many years, you can still remember how to ride a bike. You have that muscle memory.
When you are learning English, think of your brain as your “muscle.”
How do you make the sounds of your native language? When you speak in your native language, do you need to think about the correct pronunciation of words? No. You have been speaking your language for a long time. Your brain remembers the sounds that you need to make and what order they should be in, and it tells your mouth what sounds to make.
When you speak in English, you waste time thinking, “What are the rules for using prepositions?” or “Should I use for or to?” You need to read and listen to English as much as possible so you can learn core vocabulary, collocations, and natural English sentences. You need to practice saying words and sentences with the correct pronunciation until if feels natural and comfortable and you don’t have to think about the correct pronunciation.
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3. You need to believe that you can do it!
Do you believe that you can be an a fluent English speaker?
Do you really believe it?
Or do you just hope that you will be a fluent English speaker? Have you really tried?
Olympians don’t sit on the couch and watch TV for four years, and then arrive at the Olympics and hope they win a medal. They do everything possible to become the best in the world. They know they are the best in the world. They know they are capable of winning a medal.
I believe you can become a fluent English speaker. I know you can, but you have to know it and believe it, too.
Related: 4 Truths about learning English