Learn English – Do you still speak with broken English?

I’ve been feeling discouraged.  My conversations in Spanish tend to make me feel like I am ALWAYS stumbling over my words, getting them mixed up. Now I realize WHY my Spanish feels broken.  And I know what to do.


Hey there. Do you feel that your spoken English is not getting any better? Are you still stumbling over your words and feeling discouraged? I think I know why. And what I have to share with you might just encourage you.

(Intro: English without Fear where you can learn to speak English naturally, through listening to stories)

If you’re struggling with speaking English in a relaxed, smooth manner……..if you struggle to find words and it comes out all a mess sometimes from your mouth……. let me share with you what I have realized about my Spanish, about my spoken Spanish.

As I’ve told you before I am an intermediate-level Spanish learner. I have about one thousand, three hundred and fifty (1,350) hours of input that I have received in the past 25 months. Yes, I write down what activities I do and how many minutes for each. And when I say activities I do, what I’m talking mostly about are the podcasts I listen to, the videos I watch in Spanish, the reading that I do every day and a little bit of speaking and writing in Spanish. But mostly the input –  1,350 hours of input.

Yet, when I find myself speaking Spanish, I often come away feeling very discouraged, as though my Spanish, my spoken Spanish is not getting any better.

Once a week, I do an intercambio, an exchange, a language exchange, with my friend, Tere. She’s Mexican. We spend 30 minutes speaking in English. Her English is much better than my Spanish because Tere has lived here in the United States for seven years.

After speaking in English, we switch to Spanish and that’s where I find myself struggling. The problem is we are talking about life, about her life as a mom, a wife and her experiences, living in America, a different country. And I’m trying to explain my life, my mother-in-law issues, about how I used to have an eating disorder, some things about my grandchildren, everyday life. 

Well, talking about those things puts me way out of my comfort zone. You see…. the brain is in charge of language acquisition. The only way that language is clear in the brain so that it comes out clear from our mouths is if we hear and understand a word or chunk of words, 70 to 140 times. That’s a lot.

I have not heard podcasts about eating disorders or problems with mothers-in-law, very much at all….IF at all! The reason why I feel like my Spanish is broken, like I’m stumbling, is just because I am trying to talk, to use words that I don’t have wired in my brain. Were I to stay with just the words that are automatic in my brain, my Spanish would be a lot smoother. And I wouldn’t feel that stress, that tension. Does that make sense? 

I am not comfortable talking about politics and racial injustice or any of these issues in Spanish because I have not heard enough times, heard with understanding. My brain is not wired. That in that…. is the only reason why my Spanish is broken. It’s not broken at the level of language capacity in my brain.

And it was just two weeks ago that I realized this. And I said to myself: 

“Maria, of course you’re struggling. You’re going way beyond what you can do comfortably, what your brain can do.”

That’s like if a little child is learning to walk and all of a sudden you say:

“RUN, RUN across the room!”

What’s going to happen? The little child perhaps can walk slowly and carefully. But if that little child starts to run, she is going to stumble. She is going to fall down. That is what happens to you with your English. And to me, with my Spanish, when I go beyond my capacity. 

Does that mean we should never talk about important life issues? Well, yes, we should. There’s nothing wrong with that, but just realize, you need to realize, I need to realize, that we will always struggle with language IF we’re going beyond what is automatic in our brain. The good news is…. with increased input: listening, reading, watching, with increased input, more and more language is going to become automatic in our brains. But as long as we’re pushing ourselves to talk about different areas, we’re going to feel like we’re struggling.

I don’t know any medical language besides saying ‘Estoy enferma’  –  I’m sick. So, I have problems when I volunteer at the Huntsville pregnancy center. And when I’m trying to speak with a hispanic client, I stumble over asking questions about her health, um, and about miscarriages and about other issues relating to medical, uh, conditions, because I don’t have that language yet. And I’m stressed to begin with!  In a relaxed setting where I’m talking about my family in general terms, I would speak much better Spanish.

Does that make sense? So, my advice to you and to me, let’s not be discouraged. Let’s just recognize that when we stumble, when we feel like we’re speaking broken language, it’s only because we have gone beyond our natural limits for today. But a month from now with more input, we will be able to say more things. Remember, I’m only at 1,350 hours of input. By the time my own children were four years old, they had received fourteen thousand (14,000) hours of input of ‘mommy talk’. And that is why at age four, a child is pretty fluent in his or her first language. We just need hours of input, not hours of grammar, not hours of correction, hours of listening with understanding.

I hope that makes sense. I hope you feel a little bit more encouraged. Leave me a comment below this video. Tell me what you think. Tell me about your experience feeling like you’re speaking with broken English.

And remember if you would like the transcript for this episode or other transcripts, just go to my website, www.englishwithoutfear.com. That’s it for this episode, talk to you next time. 

(Outro: Thanks for watching. For questions or comments, here’s my email.)

2 thoughts on “Learn English – Do you still speak with broken English?”

  1. I agree 100% with this. When I lived in France, I was masterful with the language of plumbers, builders and roofers. That’s because we renovated a house. I used it every day. But I struggled with more mundane things. Now I live in NL. I have done so for 12 years. I have passed all the language exams to become a citizen, but still I feel my spoken language is rubbish. To the point where I will not use the telephone. Since the post Covid re opening of restaurants we have to book. So I HAVE to use the phone or not eat out. Suddenly, because we do that twice a week, it’s become easier. I don’t have that tension when the phone is answered because I know the shape the conversation is going to take. The pressure is off. I am chalking this up as a success. Ben er zo trots op. 🙂

    1. Elizabeth – thank you SO much for your anecdotal experience. Good for you for pushing yourself with Dutch -WEll DONE !! I wish I were in a country where the language was all around me. But I do the best I can when I meet hispanics. It takes HOURs to speak well…we hav to be patient. I hope you won’t be so hard on yourself.

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