Polarities in English language speaking

I’m sure you’ve all heard of yin and yang, the masculine and feminine energy of the universe. In fact, all our experience is based on underlying polarities that create a tension between opposing forces. Sometimes we feel torn between two different attractions – spending time with friends and spending time alone. Having a structured daily routine and feeling a sense of freedom. Looking after others’ needs and looking after our own needs. Working hard to succeed and remaining sufficiently detached to avoid disappointment. 

Successful leadership involves balancing apparently opposing values so that they can co-exist in a complementary way.

So, what’s this got to do with language learning?

Polarities exist in communication as they do in many other areas of life and need to be recognized to ensure a balanced relationship with the language.

For example, the polarity of accuracy and fluency, of spontaneity and careful preparation, of speaking and listening, of asking and answering questions.

We will tend towards one pole as a natural gravitation and in order to achieve balance it is worth consciously developing the other pole. For example, if you tend to speak very quickly and make the same grammar mistakes all the time, it may be worth slowing down and being slightly less fluent so as to improve accuracy and avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over again. If, however, you are so afraid of making mistakes that your language is very halting and hesitant, it might be worth speeding up and allowing yourself to make some mistakes for the sake of fluency!

If you prepare every word of a presentation and are totally dependent on your cue cards, you won’t seem natural or spontaneous. It’s always good to prepare and practice a lot but also to allow for a little improvisation that will bring more spontaneity to your interaction.

The same goes for speaking and listening. Are you better at listening or speaking? Each requires specific language skills. If you tend to speak more than you listen, practice showing interest with phrases like ‘ I see what you mean’, ‘that’s really interesting, tell me more’..
If, on the other hand, you never jump in and express yourself, practice daring to speak up and share an experience or opinion.

Learning new vocabulary and making full use of the words you already know is another example of a polarity. Of course, it’s important to enrich your vocabulary but it’s also important to be creative with the words you already have. So learn lists of vocabulary by all means but don’t let it stop you from speaking if you can’t find the right word, compensate by being creative with the words you can find in the moment.

As with any area of life, language learning is a balancing act and a chance for you to practice finding balance and harmony within yourself, as you advance with your English.


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