Primer: Native fluency 2


21 October 2011 | Last updated 21 April 2016

PEOPLE have some real bizarre beliefs about language and learning, and those beliefs are almost religious in intensity.

Far too many throw in their lot with that creature called Academic English–French–German or what-have-you — Academic Kitchenry, Academic Toiletry, Academic Whatever-bloody-hell-we-slap-a-name-on-it.

Living with a weak chin

self face punch

On the dual influence of schooling and the unrelenting marketing from academic publishers, a great number of people truly believe the ‘academic’ label is a mark of something educated, something desirable — something near enough as the be-all-end-all to language.

Anyone who buys into that view is deluded (AmE: delusional).

Let’s not exaggerate. Academic English (indeed, academic language overall) doesn’t produce good, clean, crisp language. As it will be explained a little later, academic language in the long run will hurt the individual’s ‘language personality’ and pretty much kills off any change of self-improvement. Don’t be stuck in Language Hell.

The Chinese are especially fond of — and particularly prone to — believing in this “academic-is-king” drivel, what with the ‘pull’ of long history and institutionalised perceptions of book-style learning on their side.

The value of academic learning is dynamite on paper, but here’s the problem when it comes to language learning:—

If you’re not making an effort to move away from the textbook stuff as you progress through the llanguage, then you’re basically stuck in Textbook Language Hell.

Lots of students in the Chinese-speaking world realise this as a daily fact of life about their English-language learning.

Protip:— Once you’ve reached a minimum level of English proficiency, gradually reduce your contact with the academic stuff. Move on to other forms of the language.

We all do that already with our own native language, so why not with English — or any other language? Did you forget how you did things in your own language? How did your command of your own language reached your current level?

Smelling of fish every day

rotten fish

You don’t eat fish every meal, so why do the same with language?

Let’s not be longwinded, boring and making waves about this, but here’s the stainless-steel real deal when learning and using a second language:—

You could read 1,000 books in academic English. Realise that’s 1,000 books in just one single register (see later) out of a possible 10, 12 or even two dozen other registers (depending on the language classification system used).

If this were to happen in your own language, can you honestly still expect to be as fluent as you are as a native speaker of your own language?

Come on, pee’pl! Is that workable in your own language? See what I mean.



Spanish Sign Language: mano in fica

Spanish Sign Language: mano in fica

If it were true that textbook and formal instruction leads to future ‘native’ fluency, then why in sweet roses’ name do so many Ph.D. foreigners still struggle with their English — after years and years of reading and writing stuff in English?

Let’s explode some myths, shall we?

culture dices 6156

Myth 1—Academic English is best because ‘academic’ means knowledge and culture.

FACT:— Academic language in any language has a more inflexible structure because generally it has fewer variable conditions to deal with. Real life calls for a much more flexible language structure because real-life conditions are varied and highly variable.

Indeed, it is questionable whether academic language is cultured or graceful, since (if we think about it) it’s the subject matter itself that may or may not have culture or grace.

taught to lie

Myth 2—Academic English has higher worth because it’s taught.

Depends on what you’ve been taught, doesn’t it?

Academic English is always taught because teaching happens in school anyway and the fact that it’s easier to teach — by virtue of it being more inflexible than any other register, exactly for the reason explained above.

FACT:— There is reason behind the inflexible structure of academic English: it makes for a relatively more predictable way of passing on knowledge. The inflexible language structure helps reduce language interference on the subject matter itself.

forget to be understanding

Myth 3—Academic English is constant and widely understood.

True enough, but only in a general sense.

Please realise that academic language is one particular way of expressing things for one particular purpose of communication. There are literally other (possibly more exciting) ways of expression.

FACT:— Academic language stays fairly constant within one field of study, but varies from field to field. So people working in one field becomes quickly accustomed to the quirks of usage for that field and not of another field.

That already tells us there is actually no single kind of academic language.

Scientific language is generally more direct and terser than the dense, convoluted, polemic-sounding language usually seen in the humanities and liberal arts. Legal English sounds unnecessarily repetitive, often with threatening undertones — because uncertainties and ambiguities lead to lawsuits.

FACT:— Real-life language is more fluid and changeable than academic language. Real life involves relationships, circumstances and sequences that often vary from time to time even between the same parties.

Real-life language has to have a changing and changeable quality to reflect situations and circumstances:—

I seek employment concerning the advertised position in this diurnal periodical. (Turgid)

I write in application of the advertised position in Exchange & Mart. (Formal)

I wish to apply for the position advertised in Exchange & Mart. (Formal–Informal)

I would like to have that job as dispatcher listed in the local news. (Informal)

I would like to have the dispatcher job you’ve got in the paper. (Informal–Casual)

I want to work in the dispatcher job you advertised. (Casual)

bad attitude

Myth 4—Academic English is widely understood, so no need to know any other.

That’s actually a goddamn wrong attitude to take for anything, not just in language.

It shows your thinking processes have a strong streak for confirmation bias, not to mention a sneering demeanour towards others.

Be surprised how many people have this attitude.

FACT:— Not only do we have to learn the grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, etc, we need to make sure as well to use it appropriately and in the right context.

The fact that other types of usage exist means it’s your duty to familiarise yourself with those, and learn how and when to use them.

Just because you happen to believe academic English is next to godliness doesn’t mean another sonofabitch (who might know academic English better than you do) thinks the same way.

Just because you persist in speaking academic English to the greengrocer doesn’t mean the greengrocer will respond in kind — or regard you in a better light. If anything, the greengrocer will think you’re a pervert and call the cops on you.

Protip:— Your duty first and foremost is to be a versatile English user. ‘No peace for the wicked,’ as the saying goes — so a constant vigilance in language learning is also required. Choosing the right language and tone for the right situation is important for keeping yourself out of trouble.

the willing horse

Myth 5—Academic English has always worked for me in class, so no need to change.

Be surprised how many people have this dotty attitude.

FACT:— Too much experience in a single language register means you’re under-experienced in the other registers.

The fact that you’re still making yourself understood outside the classroom doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing well — or looked upon nicely.

It’s your loss, baby.


© Learn English or Starve, 21 October 2011. Last updated 21 April 2016.

Images: Self-face punch via Dr C.K. Bray | Rotten fish via Get Smell Out | Spanish Sign Language via | Culture dices via Tarsus Amerikan Koleji | Taught to lie via whisper | To be understanding via Spirit Science | Bad attitude via | The Willing Horse by

Cite this page as:—

Learn English or Starve. (2011). “Native fluency 2.” Learn English or Starve [website]. 21 Oct 2011. Last updated 21 Apr 2016. Shortlink:

First published 21 Oct 2011.
Updated 14 Aug 2015 (formatting).
Updated 21 Apr 2016 (formatting, link updates).

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