Both native speakers and learners of English as a second or third language all start learning by learning the structure of English. The way verbs and nouns follow each other and the way we use articles and prepositions in our sentences and expressions.
Unfortunately, for most learners of English as a second language that is where it all stops.
The next level of English, the level that takes you away from sounding like a textbook and making you sound more natural is the level of what I term “destructured English“.
Let me give you an example. Most learners of English will learn the following greeting and answer:
A: How are you?
B: I’m fine thank you and you?
There is nothing wrong with this greeting, and is taught all over the world. It is grammatically correct and has the right balance of politeness and friendliness. The unfortunate thing is that it is boring and too rigid. It conveys no character or feeling and shows none of your personality or how you are feeling. In effect it is too structured.
To destructure this we can play around with a few different greetings. For example:
A: Good morning! How are you today?
B: Good morning! I’m very well thank you and your good-self?
This greeting begins to convey more feeling and more emotion and starts to give you character. The words alone are not actually going to do this. You also need to put some enthusiasm in to it as well, and that can only come from confidence. Confidence comes from practice and the realisation that you can actually do it.
Destructuring English is not only limited to speaking. Using a destructured form of English in writing can liven up your writing and make your emails sound much better to the reader. For example:
Please find attached the agenda for the next meeting at head office.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
Again, there is nothing wrong with this email, it has the right words, all in the right place. The problem is that it shows no emotion or real friendliness. It ‘sounds’ like a standard email. Again, it is too structured.
To destructure this email we can do the follow:
I have attached a copy of the agenda for our next meeting at head office.
If there is anything you want to ask me, just let me know.
This email says exactly the same thing as the first email, the difference is that this email sounds much more human and friendly, yet at the same time it is still polite. All that has changed is the use of the word “I” and “you”
Now look at this from a presentation point of view. Often when we start our presentation we begin with a textbook beginning that goes something like this:
“Good morning. My name is Hwan Soo Kim and my presentation is about the coefficient drag factor of mice running in a wind tunnel. My presentation is broken up into three parts. The first part is ….. “
While this beginning ticks all the boxes from a textbook point of view, it actually does nothing for your audience. It essentially tells them they they are about to be bored stiff for the next sixty minutes! Not a particularly inspiring beginning. It is too structured.
Instead try this:
“Good morning! Thank you all for coming today.
As some of you already know, my name is Hwan Soo Kim and today I am going to talk to you about some amazing insights we have discovered on the coefficient drag factor of mice in a wind tunnel.
So, let’s get started.”
This is a much better beginning because it sounds much more natural, it gives the speaker some character and personality and it sounds different. By destructuring your beginning you create more interest in what you are going to talk about.
So if you want to take your English to the next level, then begin deconstructing the English you use. Look for more natural ways to express yourself. Use movies, TV shows and native speakers in your company to listen out for new ways of saying the same old things. If you want a better way to begin your presentation, head over to ted.com and watch a few presentations there. You will soon find new ways of saying things.
There are so many places where you find deconstructed English, You Tube, for example, has millions of videos you can watch. Here in Korea there are many US and British TV shows shown on terrestrial TV channels and of course you can learn from each other. There really is no excuse.