It's an uncomfortable feeling…
Speaking another language, but feeling like a robot.
You know – when your speaking sounds like a textbook?
Or when you're searching desperately for words, while your speaking partner waits patiently across from you.
That's why I was really happy to publish this guest post by Anthony from Spanish Hackers.
Connectors. What are they? And how can they help?
Read on to find out…
Have you ever found yourself at a loss for words when speaking another language?
Maybe you study hard and learn new vocabulary, but when the time comes to use it in a real conversation you feel like a deer in the headlights.
Your answers are short…
Your mind goes blank…
And within a few minutes you feel like you’ve used all the words you know.
When I first started speaking Spanish I experienced the same thing. I found myself trapped behind simple phrases like:
- I live in New Jersey
- I work in New York City
- I am an engineer
The simple technique I’m about to show you helps us solve this problem no matter which language you’re learning. It even works if you don’t have a lot of knowledge about grammar or the technical aspects of a new language.
I’d go so far to say it’s one of the best ways to overcome a limited vocabulary and start speaking more naturally.
I’d like to introduce you to a family of words and phrases I like to call “connectors”.
Connectors are words or phrases that we can connect or add to other words and phrases.
This might sound a little odd at first but instead of me trying to explain how to use connectors, let me show you.
Let’s take the 3 basic sentences from before:
- I live in New Jersey.
- I work in New York City.
- I am an engineer.
…Now let’s add a connector. In this instance we’ll use the word although:
- Although I live in New Jersey I work in New York City.
- Although I am an engineer I live in New Jersey.
You see how the word although allowed us to take two sentences and make a single yet longer one?
Now one of these sentences is probably more useful than the other (I don’t think it's abnormal to be an engineer and live in New Jersey), but the the important thing is that they’re both correct and you could use either if you wanted to.
Now, these examples are in English, but you find connectors in every language. Simply find words and phrases that are equivalent in your target language to use this concept when you practice speaking.
Let’s add two more connectors into the mix and see what happens:
- as a matter of fact
Look at the different combinations we can make now:
- I live in New Jersey because I work in New York City, as a matter of fact I’m an engineer.
- Although I live in New Jersey I work in New york City because I am an engineer.
- Although I work in New York city, I live in New Jersey, as a matter of fact I am an engineer.
- I am an engineer, as a matter of fact, I work in New York city, although I live in New Jersey.
- I live in New Jersey, as a matter of fact I work in New York city because I’m an engineer.
This is powerful stuff.
Those three connectors (although; as a matter of fact; because) allowed us to take three simple sentences and make them longer and more colourful.
With just three connectors we’ve started to break free from the proverbial conversation cage.
If we can increase our speaking ability that much with just a few connectors, imagine what we could do with more!
It’s easy to see how quickly connectors will add variety and depth to your vocabulary where it really matters: when you speak!
Types of connectors
Connectors can be broken down into a few categories.
Sometimes they’re a single word sometimes they’re a phrase. But we can divide them up based on when they are best used:
These connectors are usually one word. I put them in this category because they are short, and can be used in most situations. Some connect sentences together while others simply add more meaning to an existing sentence.
Here are some common examples:
- Even if
These connectors are usually phrases that you can use when you are giving your opinion:
- I think that
- I believe that
- I hope that
- in my opinion
- I don't know exactly if
- the way I see it is that
- if I understand correctly
These are words that help you sound a little more natural in your speech by filling those awkward silences. They also help you buy more time to think of something to say.
- In reality
- To tell you the truth
- To be honest
4. Agreeing or disagreeing
Use these connectors when you are agreeing or disagreeing on a particular topic:
- I agree that
- I don’t agree that
- Without a doubt
- You’re right when you say
These are just a few of the categories of connectors you can use.
How to find connectors in your language
There aren’t any hard and fast rules for what words count as connectors and which ones don’t, not least because each language has its own unique connectors.
Now, you might find lists of connectors in textbooks or online, but you've got to be careful here because a connector will sound very unnatural if you're just lifting it from the page of a book.
I believe the most natural way to introduce connectors into your language is to look for connecting words and phrases you come across reading, watching movies, or listening to music in your target language.
I love learning new words this way because it’s easy to see the context in which they’re used, which helps you use them naturally yourself.
You can also take mental notes during your conversations with native speakers, and steal the words and phrases they use to link their sentences together.
Benefits of using connectors
Connectors help you cut down on your English “uhs” and “ums”.
I once watched a video of myself speaking Spanish when I was first learning and it amazed me how many times I defaulted to “umm” when I was trying to find something to say.
Spanish, of course, has it's own “uhs” and “ums”, but they don't sound the same as they do in English. So a good “quick win” is actually to learn how people in your target language say “um”!
When you know a few connectors, you can use them to buy more time to think, instead of using those pesky unintelligible sounds, or sounding too English.
Connectors help you keep the conversation flowing more naturally.
After you make a habit of using connectors you will start to see your target language a bit differently. You’ll start to see it as more of a “whole”, understanding more easily what words and phrases fit together and which don’t.
Mastering this skill is a huge step toward fluency.
Tips for using connectors
Learn a few connectors at a time and practice them until you are comfortable with them.
Don't try and learn a tonne all at once, or you won't even remember to use them all.
Likewise, don’t feel bad about tossing any connectors you learn, but don't like for whatever reason. Keep your learning focused on what works best for your situation.
Different people learn languages for use in different situations. While there are some connectors that will work well no matter your needs, there are others that are better for certain situations or may even be inappropriate.
More information on connectors
My experience with language learning is primarily with Spanish.
My journey was a little bumpy at first, but after introducing connectors into my speaking, practicing a lot with native speakers, and using a method where I’d “cheat” my way through conversations, I was able to see significant progress.
But I’m definitely not the first language learner to use the “connector method”.
I first heard of the idea of connectors from Moses McCormick, a popular polyglot on Youtube, who uses this method to learn multiple languages, many of which are far removed from his native English. Check out his Youtube channel for tips on learning languages as diverse as Arabic, Mandarin, and Somali.
Also if you happen to be learning Czech checkout Anthony Lauder’s Youtube. He has a whole series of
videos on connectors in Czech and he offers some great tips on how to use them.
Anthony Larsen is a writer and founder of SpanishHackers. Young at heart and with a penchant for travel he originally started learning Spanish because he wanted to visit to Spain. A couple years and several adventures later he still finds himself falling in love with the language and the people who speak it.
Did you enjoy this article? Please take a second to share it with your friends! What are your favourite connectors in the language you're learning? Let us know in the comments below!