Speaking – Automatic Phrases

One great way to build proficiency (that is, useful functioning with a language) is to focus and cue in on a few, what I like to call: ‘automatic phrases.’ This is not a novel or new idea. This is just my own twist and definition to it.

What are automatic phrases?

By my definition, automatic phrases are at least three (ideally four) things:

  1. A group of words that are learned together, remembered together, and said together.
    • Don’t isolate the words – don’t need to know meaning of individual word.
  2. Phrases or expressions that are memorized to the point of automaticity.
    • This phrase is something that is engraved in your language arsenal.
    • This phrase, expression, or question is something that should spill right out of your mouth without thought.
  3. Serves communicative purpose – express need, desire, opinion, emotion, clarification. Don’t memorize useless phrases.
    • Can owls turn their head 360 degrees?
    • What is the distance of the sun from Earth?
    • Do you build snowmen in the winter?
  4. Ideally, these phrases are questions or expressions that can be applied in various situations – but not necessarily.

Can I get an example, please?

For example, in Spanish there is the question “a qué hora?” It means “at what time?” This is a group of words that are learned together, remembered together, and said together.  In my Spanish 2 class, this question is memorized to the point of automaticity – they shouldn’t have to think about this question. This phrase should be locked away in their language arsenal and easily accessible in any situation without thought. This question is useful in all kinds of different situations: What time does it start? What time does it end? What time are we meeting? What time is it?

I know them in all of my languages: At what time? A qué hora? Um wieviel Uhr? Mihin aikaan?

What are some other good ones?

Examples of good automatic phrases:

  • Who, What, Where, When, Why, How
  • Do you need?
  • I need
  • What do you want?
  • I want
  • Do you have?
  • I have
  • At what time?
  • I don’t understand
  • Repeat, please
  • What do you like?
  • I like…
  • Where is…


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