How to Improve Your English-Part 3

#3 Back-chaining Fixed Expressions

Okay, I know that sounds fancy, but it’s not. ‘Back-chaining’ is a language teaching word that means working from the end…the back…of the word, to the front.

For example, let’s backchain the word ‘obnoxious.’

“shus” “nox-shus” “ob-nox-shus” “obnoxious.”

It is a strategy for taking a difficult to say word or phrase and simplifying it.

A ‘fixed expression’ is an expression that never changes. It doesn’t change tense or person. It always stays the same.

For example: ‘Know what I mean?’

When used to check understanding or agreement, this expression doesn’t change.

Knew what I meant?—ang—wrong

Know what he means?—ang—weird

It’s only going to be ‘know what I mean?’

So, if I were to backchain this fixed expression, I would say…


Now, you’re probably wondering why do this backwards in the first place? Why not just repeat it? And the reason is, fixed expressions usually squish all of the words’ sounds together. We call these reductions, by the way. By practicing it from the back to the front, it helps you to think of it like a single sound instead of an expression. ‘Know-what-I-mean?’ Separately, sounds weird. KnowwhatImean…sounds like one word and it sounds very natural.

The only reason people can do this and still be understood is because the expressions don’t change.

If they don’t change, and the other person, a native speaker, knows they don’t change, then as soon as someone begins one of these expressions I already know what they’re going to say before they even finished it, so it’s okay to rush it.

In other words, by the time my friend says, “Knowwha….” I can already guess what’s coming next.

Fixed expressions are a massive part of language learning no matter how you study them. Some of them are idioms, phrasal verbs, colloquialisms, and the bad news is there is no one resource that lists all of them. In a way, you have to search them out on your own, and then just check with a native speaker. That’s a lot of work, it’s a bummer, but it will most definitely improve your English.

lesson includes


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Form: Verb

Meaning: To repeat a word or phrase starting from the last syllable and working towards the first

Use: Used by language teachers to help practice difficult to say words/phrases

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