In English, the word "bottleneck" describes something that slows down a process.

Think about the shape of a wine bottle. The bottom part is wider, but in order for the wine to pour out, it has to pass through the narrow "neck" of the bottle. This limits how quickly you can pour it.

We use the term "bottleneck" to talk about things like business processes. Whenever one specific part of a system is slowing down the entire system, it's a bottleneck.

Where are your bottlenecks?

It can be really useful to consider where the bottlenecks in your English learning are.

For example, imagine someone who never learns the English alphabet. Even if this person lives in an English-speaking country, surrounded by English signs, books, magazines, and so on, they will never learn to read. All of those opportunities are wasted because this person doesn't spend a week or two to learn 26 letters.

Some weaknesses don't matter as much. But when you have a "bottleneck" weakness like this, it stops the whole learning process. No matter how hard you work on other areas, your improvement will continue to be really slow and painful.

Avoid common bottlenecks

Here are some areas that can become bottlenecks:

  • The sounds of English
    Once you learn the difference between, for example, "hit" and "heat", you can start to hear it every time someone says one of those words. That gives you more practice, which improves your pronunciation more, and so on.

    English has about 24 consonant sounds and 15-20 vowels (depending on the region). It doesn't take a long time to learn them.
  • Specific vocabulary
    Consider a sentence like this:

    In short, humans go through a process which creates lactic acid during anaerobic exercise, which builds up in the muscles and causes soreness after strenuous exertion.

    Not knowing the complicated words keeps you from understanding the sentence. Not understanding the sentence keeps you from understanding the grammar, which makes it hard to express complex ideas in any area.
  • Cultural knowledge
    The more you're able to speak English with people, the faster you'll improve. So how do you get people to speak with you a lot? It helps if they like you and accept you. And this is much easier when you know how to follow social rules, like when to speak formally and when to be more casual.
  • Your emotions
    Do you get nervous or subconscious when you speak to people in a foreign language? If so, you probably don't speak as often. Or you might limit your range and just use simple, safe language.

    Learn how to be relaxed and confident when you speak English, even when you don't know a lot of make mistakes.

There are probably dozens of areas like this. The important thing is to think about yourself and figure out what you need to improve. 

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