I only know my wife’s phone number in a foreign language, not in English.

It’s not how much English you know, it’s how much you use it.

Now I am English, born and raised in England and a native speaker. I should be fluent, right? I should always think first in English, my native tongue, shouldn’t I? Well, you would think so, but here I am going to show you just how being fluent in a language, or not having to translate from your native language, is not about how much you know, but about how much you use what you do know. My wife is Slovene, and we are we are currently living in Slovenia. These days we no longer dial phone numbers like we used to, everything is saved into our phones and we simply search the name and click on it to dial. I have, and never will need to dial her number directly. Additionally, I rarely need to tell anyone her phone number, and have never needed to tell anyone in English. Therefore, I only ever hear her telling others her phone number, in Slovene. The realisation that I can more easily recite her number in Slovene than in English was when someone asked me for it. It was a Slovene person, but they asked me in English. I couldn’t think of it in English, and had to tell the person in Slovene.

My home phone number from childhood.

I still remember my home phone number from childhood because every time someone phoned, my parents would always answer by reciting the number! How many of you can remember your childhood home phone number? Comment below…

Teaching this to my students.

In all my years of teaching English I have always listened to my students tell me that they have to translate everything from Slovene first, or that to be fluent in English they need to be more advanced. I always tell them that it’s not how much you know, it’s how often you use what you know. When I was travelling a lot in Mexico, Spain and South America I was speaking Spanish every day. Now I wasn’t advanced in any way, but I could hold a conversation, ask for things in shops and engage in general chit chat with the locals. Now, I was not advanced. I lacked a huge amount of vocabulary, and my grammar sucked. But I was fluent with what I used every day, and didn’t need to translate it first. I haven’t spoken Spanish for over 10 years and can hardly string a sentence together now. So it just goes to show how keeping contact and using the language is so important.
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So the best way to improve your English is to have regular conversational lessons. If you are in Ljubljana join me for a walk and talk lesson, or join me on one of my weekend walk and talk courses in England. Just don’t ask me for my wife’s phone number!
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