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Chapter 15: The Seventh Rule: Learn English With Compelling Stories


The primary purpose of Effortless English is to teach you to speak and understand English quickly, correctly, and automatically. That "automatic" part is what separates this method from so many others, and automatically comes from thinking in English.

When you think in English, you no longer translate. You no longer think about grammar or pronunciation. The language has become a deep part of you, just like your own native language.

At this stage, you have achieved effortless English. You understand instantly, with no stress. Because you think in English, words flow out of your mouth quickly and easily. You use correct grammar, yet never consider grammar rules. If someone asks how you do it, you probably say, "I don't know. I just know what sounds right."

Speed is the most obvious change at this stage. You are able to instantly understand and instantly respond. The hesitation is gone. The strain, the stress, the doubt, the confusion – all gone. You are like the professional soccer player, performing with power and grace.

At this point on the road to fluency, you have learned most of the Effortless English system. You have just one more rule to learn and I have saved the best for last.

Rule Seven is the method that trains speed. So what is it? Listen-and-answer stories. That's the seventh and final rule of Effortless English. Learn to think in English with listen-and-answer stories.

What are listen-and-answer stories, or, as I sometimes call them, mini-stories? Well, remember in the past when you went to English school? You probably were taught with a lot of listen and repeat drills. You know, when the teacher would say, "Repeat after me. Hi, how are you?" And everyone in the class would say in unison, "Hi, how are you?" Then the teacher would continue, "I'm fine, and you?" Then all of the class together said, "I'm fine, and you?" This is listen and repeat. It's an old way to learn English. But, it's not powerful.

Why? When you listen and repeat, you don't need to think in English. You don't need to think at all. You just repeat what the teacher said. You don't even need to understand what you are saying, but still, you repeat. It's a mindless exercise with little benefit.

Now sometimes, after you've gotten used to listening and repeating in one of these traditional classes, the teacher will start asking you questions so you can answer with some of the responses you've learned. For example, instead of having you repeat, she'll ask: "How are you?" You'll say, "I'm fine, and you?" This is a bit better since you're at least answering questions and not just repeating phrases you may or may not understand.

The problem is, these are scripted answers. When the teacher asks, "How are you?" you always say, "I'm fine, and you?" You already know what the teacher is going to say and you already know what you are going to say. Yet, real conversations are unpredictable. You never know what is coming next. You have to be ready for anything. Listen-and-answer stories are much more powerful.

Perhaps the first question we should ask is, "Why stories?" In Rule Five, I taught you about point-of-view stories. In Rule Six, I encouraged you to read and listen to authentic materials, especially stories. Now I'm telling you the key to automatic English is listen-and-answer stories.

Stories are incredibly powerful because they are an ideal way to deliver information to the brain. Human beings have used stories to teach and learn for thousands of years, since well before the invention of writing. What makes them powerful?

Stories are emotional. We love the heroes and hate the villains, and that's important because emotions create stronger memories. This is why religions have used stories for thousands of years to teach their principles. They could just teach the principles directly, but they know that stories create a stronger and deeper impression.

And when a story is designed to be strange, funny, or highly emotional, it is even easier to remember. This is why listen-and-answer stories use strange characters and exaggerated events. Which is easier to remember: a normal person with brown hair, or a person who is only one meter tall with green hair? If you meet both briefly at a party, which are you most likely to remember a year later? Usually, it's the one that is not "normal."

In addition to being strange, funny, or exaggerated, listen-and-answer stories use a very specific technique called "asking a story." Please note, I did not say telling a story. I said asking a story. This is a technique developed by Blaine Ray. The teacher creates the story by asking a lot of very simple and easy questions. Why?

Because the questions train you to understand and respond more quickly. A listen- and-answer story is not a passive activity. You must constantly understand a barrage of endless questions, and you must instantly respond to them. The teacher slowly builds the story by adding more details.

An important aspect of these stories is that the questions are always easy and your answers are always short. Most of the time, you will answer with only a couple of words. The focus of these stories is speed, not length. Remember, to achieve the highest levels of English speaking, you must be fast. You must understand and respond instantly.
As you listen, sometimes the teacher will ask a question and you won't know the answer. When this happens, you are encouraged to immediately shout out a guess.

So the process is a non-stop series of questions and answers. Through this process, you overwhelm your slow analytic brain. Because there are so many questions and you must answer so quickly, there simply isn't time to think about grammar, vocabulary, or anything else. This is how listen-and-answer stories train you for speed.

When you use these listen-and-answer stories, you teach yourself to understand quickly and to respond quickly. You have to speak quickly and automatically, without thinking, "What does that word mean?" That's why these stories are so powerful. You learn to think in English, and you learn to speak quickly without translating.

:: How Mini-Stories Work

Let me give you a very easy and simple sample of a question-and-answer mini-story, just a couple of sentences. Now, imagine you have a short little story about a monkey. In listen-and-answer stories, it would work this way. As a teacher, I would say: "Class, there was a monkey. Was there a monkey?" You would shout: "Yes!" You could also shout, "Yes, there was a monkey!" but a one-word answer is sufficient.

Then I would say, "Was there a monkey or was there a girl? You would immediately shout: "A monkey – a monkey."
And I would say, "Ah, so there was a monkey?" Again, you would shout, "Yes, a monkey."
I would say, "Ah, I see there was a monkey. What was his name?" Here you don't know, so you guess quickly – John or Jim – anything – you would shout an answer as fast as possible.
"Actually," I would say, "his name was Reggie. Was Reggie a monkey or was Reggie a girl?" And you would shout again, "A monkey!"

This continues for twenty minutes or more, slowly building the story. I continue to ask more questions, and because you are constantly answering questions, you learn to think in English. You learn to respond, to answer faster and faster in English. Now, of course, this example is very simple. My real mini-story lessons are longer and much more interesting, and there are a lot more questions. (You can download a free sample Effortless English lesson, including a listen-and-answer story, at And when you use these lessons, you will gradually train yourself to think in English.

Listen-and-answer stories are a form of active brain exercise. Because they are stories, you can visualize what's happening. You learn the phrases, grammar, and vocabulary in a meaningful context. Because the stories are strange and funny, you remember the English used in them much longer. Because you constantly answer questions, you learn to think and respond in English faster and faster.

In fact, a good listen-and-answer story skillfully combines all elements of the Effortless English system into one powerful learning tool. I know of no better tool for rapid improvement in spoken English.


When I put together mini-stories, I try to make them funny or strange so that they're easy to remember. I also try to reflect American culture, as you'll see in the practice example at the end of this chapter.

Why do I do this? Well, research has shown that you will learn a language more quickly if you can begin to identify with the culture. For example, according to Dr. Stephen Krashen and contrary to popular belief, even people who learn English as an adult can develop a perfect accent. What holds them back is not some inability to make new sounds, but rather their connection to their home country and its culture. When a child comes to the U.S. and learns English, they really want to fit in, so they will do everything they can to be like other Americans. Adults, on the other hand, have more established identities and tend to stay more rooted to their native culture.

But there are ways to get around this. The best thing you can do if you're trying to learn English is find some part of American culture that you really love (or British or Australian culture, if you're studying English there), and can immerse yourself in. It can be anything – music, movies, food, martial arts, whatever – as long as you find it interesting. It's especially useful if you can find something that is unique to the culture, like American football, for example. Most important, you must connect to and share your interest with native English speakers who love the same thing.
Try it and see. This will not only help you speak more fluently, but it will also help your pronunciation as well.

:: Movement and Mini-Stories

I mentioned the importance of movement in earlier chapters. Dr. James Asher's total physical response (TPR) system emphasizes the link between movement and learning. Blaine Ray's TPRS method (Total Physical Response using Storytelling) links movement to stories. Effortless English uses both systems.

When I do a live event, one of the first things I tell my students is that they need to make listening to a mini-story a whole-body activity. Much of the power of (listen- and-answer) mini-stories comes from how powerful your responses are.

In any (listen-and-answer) mini-story, you will hear only three types of sentences. You must respond to each type of sentence in a particular way. The first type of sentence is a statement. A statement is not a question, but you should still respond by saying "ahhhhhhhhh." Remember, stronger movements and emotions are more powerful, so don't just say "ahhhh," shout it and move your body at the same time. Pretend the statement is the most interesting information you have ever heard! Nod your head and smile as you respond.

The second type of sentence is a question you know the answer to. When you hear this kind of sentence, you want to shout an answer as loud as you can, using a full-body gesture that shows you're really excited about it. Exaggerate. Throw your arms up as you shout, "Yes!"

The third and final type of sentence you will hear in a mini-story is a question where you don't know the answer. As I mentioned previously, in this case your job is to shout a guess as quickly as possible. As with the other sentence types, shout your guess loudly and use exaggerated gestures as you do so.

The combination of speed, shouting, and movement locks in the memory of the sentence. Instead of just sound, you're getting sound and movement and emotions. You'll need fewer repetitions to remember it. You'll also start to connect speaking English to that excited enthusiastic feeling because, at the same time, you are creating a positive anchor.

There's no stress with mini-stories because anyone can say yes or no. That's why the questions are designed to be super easy. It is not a memory exercise, it's a response exercise. You bypass the whole analysis part and go straight into fast responses.

Another exercise we do at live events is story retelling. Once students have listened to a story and they know it well, they retell it to a friend. They stand up and use their whole body with big, strong gestures and tell the story in a loud, enthusiastic voice. The idea is to tell the story as quickly as possible, focusing on speed, not accuracy.

You will do this as well. After you have mastered the questions and answers, turn off the audio mini-story. In a peak emotional state, retell the story out loud as fast as you can. Shout the story and use big gestures as you speak. Make it a game and aim for speed. It's okay to make a mistake and it's even okay to change the details of the story. Just practice speaking as fast as you possibly can.

The point is that the best learning happens when you are in a peak state, involved and active. My live lessons are like "English rock concerts" and everyone has tremendous energy. To recreate this at home, put on your favorite music. Close the door so no one can see you. Now jump around just before you do the mini-story. Feeling energized, begin listening to the mini-story. As you're doing the mini-story, get excited. Get crazy. Really shout out the answers. Finish with a fast retelling of the story. Remember, the more powerful your responses are and the more energy you use, the deeper your learning will go.

:: Practice Exercise

Here is a more advanced mini-story, without the questions. Note: the bolded words are the vocabulary I would teach my students in advance at a seminar. I've included part of the transcript to give you an idea.

For a full audio version of this lesson, including the questions, go to

Listen and Answer Mini Story: The Race

It's five o'clock and Allen is riding his motorcycle in San Francisco. He is riding down Van Ness Street and comes to a stoplight.
A red Ferrari pulls up next to him. The driver's wearing dark sunglasses. He looks over at Allen.
Allen looks at him and realizes that the driver is Tom!
Tom sneers at Allen. He says, "When the light turns green, let's race."
Allen says, "All right, you're on!"
Tom says, "I'm gonna smoke you!"
Allen says, "You wish. I'm gonna beat you and your sorry-ass car."
Allen and Tom wait at the light. They rev their engines.
Suddenly, the light turns green. Allen and Tom take off! They zoom down Van Ness at top speed.
Tom is winning. But suddenly, blue and red lights appear behind Tom – it's the police. They pull him over.
Allen zooms past Tom, laughing. He yells, "Better luck next time!"
Allen is the winner!

Download the audio version of this story, including the questions. Listen and respond to the story every day for seven days or more (and remember, more is better because of deep learning). Each time you finish listening and responding, turn off the audio, and retell the story as fast as possible. Notice as your speaking gets faster each day.

:: Audio and Text Materials


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:: AJ Hoge teacher





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