Many people who study English acquire a substantial vocabulary and use verb tenses at least as well as native English speakers.
Putting that voluminous knowledge together in such a way that everyday conversation and official matters are all handled with a minimum of stress and complication is a different proposition altogether.
Is it acceptable to use slang in formal dealings with the Council or college admissions offices? How can I use this idiom to get my point across effectively?
In support of your dedication to learning English, we offer these tips to increase your proficiency in speaking your adopted language.
Forget Mastering English Accents... For Now
By some accounts, there are more than fifty-six distinctly different accents spoken around Britain.
We can all identify the prominent ones, like Scottish, Welsh and Irish – languages unique to their regions that cause British English to be spoken differently than mainstream.
We've also had substantial exposure to the Queen's English, and Received Pronunciation – slightly less formal in tone than the language high society uses, is generally spoken by television presenters.
What about Cockney, Estuary English and Northern England English, just to name a few?
In order to assimilate into society, many people strive for language skills that mirror their environment upon arrival in Britain.
Were you, as a newcomer, to attempt the speech patterns that your neighbours have grown up speaking, you would need a lifetime to master the tones and inflexion that natives to the area used as a matter of course.
Our first tip for fluency: abandon the idea of mirroring locals' speech patterns – for now, at least.
Later will be time enough, as you find your place in society and function within your community, to discover that the inflexion you hear the most is the one you will adopt... with no extra effort required.
Don't Translate Literally in Your Language
Just about every language learner starts understanding their second language by translating words and phrases it into his/her native language.
Equally true: any learner at the basic English stage will formulate ideas in his/her native language, and then translate them into English.
If you are at or beyond the middle-intermediate stage of learning English, you should have grown away from both of those practices.
A common problem that plagues non-native English speakers is a literal interpretation of what is being said.
Perhaps born of earnestness – a sincere desire to understand and use English, Esl learners tend to accept everything being said by a native speaker with the utmost of seriousness.
Tip number two: Do not take everything literally!
The English language, and especially British English is full of delightful quirks and phrases that, when accepted as absolute truth, make for grave misunderstandings.
Picture this sentence, taken literally: "I just had a blinding encounter with my old mate..."
It could well mean that the 'old mate' had held a grudge for years and finally exacted revenge by blinding the speaker.
Blinding is slang for brilliant, wonderful.
Rather than translating everything, or accepting every spoken word as authentic in meaning, you should pay attention to context and nuances.
You will cultivate fluency once you find English expressions and slang don't translate well into other languages.
More on Learning English Slang, Idioms and Colloquialisms
You hear it from the telly; you read it in the penny-dreadfuls. Your mates may speak tosh, but it's spawny we're here for you. Don't throw a paddy, we won't let all this slang queer your pitch.
Reflecting further on the ardour of language learners in general, it is easy to understand why the more lighthearted aspects of the English language might be perceived as less significant than proper English vocabulary and grammar.
Let us interpret the above sentence into standard English:
You hear it from the television; you read it in gossip magazines. Your friends may mock you, but it's lucky we're here for you. Don't throw a tantrum, we won't let all this slang spoil your efforts.
As you can see by this example, slang makes language colourful, descriptive and fun and, in many cases, much less formal than standard English vocabulary.
Tip three: Learn and use slang in non formal situations
As an English learner, you might be uncomfortable using slang phrases in your spoken English but there is no harm in learning some, if only to increase your language comprehension.
The greater your understanding of English, the more confident you become in using it. Confidence is the very essence of fluency!
How to Use Contractions in English Lessons
In some aspects, English is a cumbersome language. Were every word clearly pronounced – and with equal stress, the language would sound stilted and monotonous.
Do not correct my English pronunciation. I should have done it myself.
During the course of your English lessons online, you have most likely been encouraged to write every word properly – without contractions, and that is indeed a good way to build your English writing and spelling skills.
However, when speaking English, using contractions makes the language flow more naturally, as in this sentence:
Don't correct my English pronunciation. I should've done it myself.
Phonetically written: doan correct my English pronunciation. I shuh dove done it myself.
Using contractions is our fourth tip for greater fluency.
Along with contractions, we must discuss connections.
Learning English as a foreign language, most likely your Esl teacher instructed you that a word is an individual unit that must be clearly spoken.
Contrast that advice with the way a native English speaker says:
- What do you want to do? (Whachoo wanna do?)
- Where do you want to go? (Waird you wanna go?)
- I will leave it to you to decide. (Ah leavit tuh yoo tuh d'cide.)
Connecting words in this manner makes English both easier to pronounce and faster to speak.
To improve your speaking skills as well as fluency, learn the rules for connecting words.
You can practise your new speaking skills by taking some quizzes on that page, too!
Knowing how native speakers connect words will also help improve your listening skills.
Learn English Phrases, not Words!
Understanding grammar rules and growing your vocabulary word by word are traditional ways to improve your English – at intermediate level and below.
To gain fluency, and especially if you are learning college level or business English, you should progress to learning entire phrases at once.
Learning phrases will not only increase your vocabulary, but it will give you context in how to use the words you have already learned.
And how to understand them when native speakers use them.
A particularly effective exercise for language learning and becoming more fluent is substitution. Here, we present an elementary example:
I am going to the train station. (airport, market, bus stop, corner, etc.)
By swapping destinations, you can improve your vocabulary as well as speed up your thinking in English, and challenge your grammar skills.
You could also say you are going to the concert or the kitchen, but you cannot say you are going to the room or the school, at least not without some qualifier: the back room, or the language school.
Sing a Song!
Many Esol students watch television, especially the news segments, in order to study language patterns and emulate the presenters.
While this idea has some merit, it shouldn't top the list of ways to learn English conversation.
The style of English for broadcasting news programs is generally not suitable for everyday English usage.
Why not use music to improve your English speaking, instead?
You can find free English song lyrics online, for popular as well as older music. With the words in front of you, all you have to do is imitate the singer's vocalization.
The tempo and rhythm that songs are sung in can help you develop a style of speaking that is not only fluent but pleasing to hear.
An added bonus is that many modern songs make ample use of slang and include tricky, fashionable phrases.
- For learning English outside the classroom, and especially to gain an understanding of British humour, watch popular television shows.
- There is no better way to break the ice with native English speakers than to flawlessly use phrases and expressions from trendy UK TV shows.
- Your English teacher may show movies in class. Watching films, especially with English subtitles turned on, is a good way to gain exposure to English dialogue without the stress of having to respond.
- You can learn English online, with the British Council's website. Their online lessons and podcasts blend everyday English with a more formal speech that you might encounter in the course of your daily life.
- Search for "English courses in London" on Google or whatever city is closest to you to see the tutors available in your area.
Fluency in English can be achieved in a variety of ways, as has been pointed out here.
Of all of these methods, nothing compares to your using English today and every day, to improve English fluency.