Xmas Present for Language Learners: Breaking Through to Fluency

Breaking Through to Fluency

This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.

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Breaking Through to Fluency…

Every Xmas, when struggling to buy ‘the’ gift for the people in my life, I end up with stuff for myself. Yeah! I like stuff. Especially stuff about language learning. This week, after downloading the Kindle version of Breaking Through to Fluency (how to naturally learn a new language with the right teacher), I thought of someone besides myself. You.

No, I’m not going to gift the ebook via a free giveaway. No need. At a mere $0.99 it’s affordable (and I can save my pennies for another day). So could my title possibly be misleading? Not really. I’m working on the assumption that you too buy yourself stuff at Xmas.

What impressed me about Joshua Smith’s ebook is 1) it takes us through his language struggles, and 2) a free audio book is included, and 3) it has an AH HA worth knowing about.

Breaking Through to Fluency: If you’d like to learn another language wisely, and thus more efficiently, then this book is for you.

The last 10 years of my life’s journey has been spent learning new languages and teaching people – over 200 in the last 6 years – to become fluent. These 200+ people were just like me: they had studied in schools, traveled abroad, etc., without achieving the fluency they had always dreamed of.

This booklet tells my story. It took me more than 3 years to finally experience a substantial breakthrough speaking a second language. Although I was sometimes humiliated in the process the first time around, following my discovery, I used the same method to learn a 3rd language with greater focus and ease. Now it’s time to share this process with you. I call it ‘natural conversation’.

Breaking Through to Fluency Having plans to incorporate Joshua’s AH HA into my own language studies, I contacted him with a few questions.

Breaking Through to Fluency: Question one…

How can students find a teacher who will give them time to speak?


I think these points will give someone the best chance; of course, we’ll never really know, until after we start working with the person.

1. Independent teachers. This way the teacher is their own boss. Thus they create or collect the curriculum and can use the teaching style (natural conversation) they want. Plus they have the liberty to change things, even in real time, if something isn’t working well.

If you go to a chain school, the teacher has to use the curriculum and style that the school administrator says: book 1, book 2, unit 1, unit 2, etc.

2. Private classes. When we’re just starting to speak another language, our vocabulary is much smaller than our native language. So we need time to think creatively how we can express ourselves with the vocabulary we have. With private classes, the student pays a little more for the class, but doesn’t have to share that time with other people. Thus the student has all the time in the world, or that class, to formulate and express their ideas. In group classes, there are all sorts of other issues that take place in the dynamics of the group class: shyness, students ahead of other students, etc., all of which are eliminated with the private classes.

I have found that one group class per month is good to practice listening to other accents and the group class dynamics, which are important.

3. Interview. Make an interview or meeting with the teacher before starting the course. If the teacher doesn’t give you an opportunity to speak during the meeting, there’s a good chance that they won’t in the classes. This one is difficult for the teacher, because they’ll want to show you how good they are, as they want to get a new student. Naturally they’ll anxiously speak a lot, but when the student tries to ask a question or speak, does the teacher just keep speaking, or does he/she pass the microphone?

Other thoughts:

• The teacher must really care about the success of their student(s).

• I know without a shadow of a doubt that the system – natural conversation – is one of the most efficient, if not the most efficient to improve fluency. I know/understand that who needs to speak most of the class time is my student, not me. Therefore, I am patient and ask question after question about their weekend, work, hobbies, etc. making them paint me a Picasso, until I know every last little detail. If they ask about my weekend, I sum it up in a few sentences. Depending on the student, and how long we’ve been working together, I might give them more information, but I certainly won’t take more than 5 min of their class time to talk about me.

• Sometimes the teacher is so concerned about “teaching”, that they teach (blah, blah, blah) the whole class, or most of it anyway. Who needs to speak or blah, blah, blah is the student to develop fluency. Does your language teacher understand this?

• I have heard many people say that you have to think in your new language. How in the hell can you think in your new language when you’ve just started learning it, and probably only have a few hundred word vocabulary? …You can’t. Of course, we’re going to translate when we begin. After we learn some of the differences in the languages, then we can start trying to think in our new language. When we are rolling along pretty good, then we start thinking in our new language.

Breaking Through to Fluency: Question two…

Do you generally ask for X amount of experience in a language before taking on a student with your method? Or do you give the student a set of phrases/vocab to begin with?

No I don’t ask for x amount of experience to use my method. If a student is starting from zero, I’ll just ask the same questions in their native language, limiting this conversation to 5 min. Next I’ll ask them which verbs they used: for the weekend example they will be go, buy, eat, etc. Then I need to teach them the basics. Obviously, with someone that’s only had a few classes, the conversation will be very short. The next class, I’ll ask them the same questions in the same sequence: how was your weekend, what did you do?

I tell them that next class I’m going to ask them the same questions, so they can prepare the vocabulary before the class.

Breaking Through to Fluency: Question three…

What advice would you give teachers who’d like to use your method? The reason I’m asking is that I have a group of Thai Skype teachers just who might be interested in implementing it.

Advice for teachers is just to be patient. As long as the student is working to formulate sentences and speaking then you can continue with the conversation. If there is just silence, and the student doesn’t have anything more to say or can’t say any more, then the teacher can start the lesson they’ve prepared.

Best tip: Let the conversation go as long as you can keep the student speaking. If that is the whole class, fantastic! The teacher can use the lesson he/she prepared in the next class.

Obviously, if you want to learn more about the AH HA, you’ll have to get your own copy of Breaking Through to Fluency. Go on. You deserve it. Oh. And before I forget… “Ho Ho Ho and Merry Xmas to all!”

7 thoughts on “Xmas Present for Language Learners: Breaking Through to Fluency”

  1. “learning languages is one of the few pursuits that still has considerable value even if we do it poorly, unlike playing the violin or flying a helicopter”

    I’d forgotten all about that truth. I’m going to have to reread Katya’s ebook (a worthwhile activity for New Year’s Eve).

  2. Also, as Katya Lomb points out, learning languages is one of the few pursuits that still has considerable value even if we do it poorly, unlike playing the violin or flying a helicopter.

  3. Rick, “nothing worthwhile is ever easy” I suspect that’s why many go after learning new languages? There are much easier ways to spend our free time (for sure).

  4. Autologues are tough, especially, as you say, in the beginning.

    But nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and as an aid to the learning stage of “breaking through to fluency” is very beneficial, I would suggest.

  5. Merry Xmas back Michel 🙂 the main idea in his book is simple, but so very good.

    Rick, having yourself as a teacher has got to be tough, especially at the beginning when you don’t know what materials are correct or not.

    In my early days with Thai it seemed like I was running into a fair amount that was wrong (frustrating). Do other languages have the same problem? This year I sent an Italian course to a friend and she found only one or two sentences slightly out of wack. Minor tweaks set them right.

  6. I have heard many people say that you have to think in your new language.

    This is undoubtedly an extremely powerful learning method — albeit one that takes a bit of self-discipline. Once you learn to do this (what Katya Lomb calls “autologue”), you find you have a teacher (yourself) who is patient, cordial, and above all interesting.

    Interesse ist stärker als Liebe as they say in German (“Interest(edness) is stronger than love”). If you have a great teacher, but one whose main interest and topic for learning is the court dress of the Sukhothai period, odds are that their good qualities will be wasted by your lack of genuine interest in the subject.

    Having yourself as teacher, autologues will probably never be dull. But it does take discipline; there are so many easier things to be doing…..


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