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Instinct is one of those ‘funny’ phenomena where it is ‘just there’ from birth. We see it with the birth of a new baby, how it ‘just knows’ things and tries to act it out. Also in the animal kingdom, how a baby animal is born and within an hour automatically tries to stand up and within an hour or two is standing and suckling from the mother. How did the calf know this? The mother didn’t teach it. It is simply the instinct to stand and survive. We all have it. There is also an instinct in us humans to speak or make a noise.
As soon as we are born we have an urge to open our mouth an say something, unfortunately as babies we don’t have any language to use to make it come out in a comprehendible way, so we just….scream or cry. Whatever the feeling, we find a way to express it – with sound. This is an instinct.
Taking this idea quite a few steps further, we pick up far more efficient ways to express ourselves through mimicking and picking up those phrases being spoken around us….i.e. language. If we grow up in an Arabic household, Arabic will be what we pick up, if we grow up in a Chinese household, Chinese will be what we use. These languages are simply far more sophisticated sounds that are being made based on the instinct to make a sound.
Which leads us to the notion of the ‘instinct to speak English’.
Of course, there is no such thing, however what you can do is develop (just as you did when you were a baby), your instinct away from your own original language to English.
Teachers do this in the classroom all the time. They offer rounds and rounds of opportunities to engage you so that your English learning goes deep. Sometimes it can come through constant repetition, sometimes through deep understanding of the grammar, and sometimes through simple understanding of the right phrases to use at the right moment.
The ultimate aim (from the teachers point of view), is to get you the student to be able to slip seamlessly in and out of your language with total proficiency so that you are clearly understood whichever way you want to deliver it. What the teacher is in fact doing, is tuning into your instinct to speak first, then getting you to reshape your ‘Arabic’ or ‘Chinese’ flavours into English.
One of the reasons why we have accents after learning another language is because our ‘instinct to speak’ is so deeply engrained with our original language, that when we try to use our new English, the different sounds that represent certain pronunciations in our original language will cross over to our new language. This is why the unique ‘poor pronunciation’ issues pertaining to certain mother tongues is much stronger in some ESL students rather than others. It all comes back to the shaping of that instinct.
Coming to the final point, the most interesting angle as an ESL student on this is to understand our instinct to speak, and as a result developing our current shaping of the instinct to an instinct to do it all in English.