A little word of encouragement to beginners of English :)

Yes, it feels like climbing a mountain – but one step at a time and you will do it!

Thanks in part to the events of 2020, I’ve discovered just how happy a good walk/run around in the fresh air can make me!  

I recently decided to try my hand* at tennis.  I love it so far! It’s great knowing that I’m activating under-used muscles, developing my coordination and meeting new people at the same time.  But it’s so much harder than it looks! 

Hitting the ball is one thing, but actually coordinating groups of muscles you don’t normally use, adding just the right amount of strength to get the ball over the net, snapping back to a ready position so you are best placed to meet your opponent’s volley?! 

I was also laughing at my own attempts to serve – it turns out that so much coordination has to go into that single act of hitting the ball over the net. Of course, the coach made it look so easy!  Then he said something which really struck a chord:

Me: Argghh! My brain knows what I need to do, but I just can’t seem to put it all together in that split second!

Coach: Don’t worry. With practice, you’ll develop that muscle memory and it will become second nature.

Muscle memory!  So basically, I have everything I need, but I’m activating under-used muscles, strengthening them and learning to sequence them in a way that isn’t yet familiar.

It’s like… starting to learn a new foreign language.

I’d just been helping one of my lovely English beginners that morning. She had said something similar when trying to pronounce a full sentence in my native tongue:

“I know what it’s meant to sound like, but it’s like my mouth is made of wood!”

Muscle memory. When we perform any task for the first time, not many of us manage it in a gracious, fluid motion. First steps, writing your name, hitting a ball over a net, speaking a foreign language…

As well as the mental capacity to achieve the action, you usually need some sort of physical agility to go with it.

So, language beginners (or those of you who haven’t spoken English for a long time!) – next time you are cursing yourself, try thinking about a baby’s first steps, your child’s pride in their first drawing, or the first time you tried riding a bike on two wheels.  

You know what you need to do.  

Your brain needs time to admit your language skills to the automatic memory “box”.

Your tongue needs to strengthen and develop its muscle memory as you pronounce unfamiliar sounds.

By the way, if you’d like to join my upcoming English for Beginners online group lessons, you can check the details and sign up here.

Just as it was when you took your first steps, you’ll fall down a few times, but with determination and commitment, your brain will connect those words in the right order and your tongue will allow you to form those sentences.  I promise!

Now, where’s my tennis racket?..

Rebecca, English Club Online
Online Native English Tutor

*to try your hand + at something = to try something for the first time, to see how it goes

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