12 Best Tips to Improve your English Speaking Fluency!
Before starting you need to be clear about your fluency goal. In other words, what is fluency in English? Or maybe it’s easier to ask , what is lack of fluency in English? If you are like many many learners I have worked with, you may have communication issues like:
- I hesitate when I don’t find the word/phrase/expression I need and I get embarrassed
- It can take extra time to get to the point and the other person loses attention
- Sometimes I get strange responses or a confused look and this effects my confidence in using English around fluent speakers
- I often have to repeat certain words or phrases – this makes me unsure if I sound clear in English
So, in summary, you don’t want to hesitate too much, be too slow or long-winded, be unclear about your meaning, be impolite or mispronounce phrases. Well, all of these can be achieved in order to improve your speaking fluency. How? By working on some basic principles of good English communication.
The best way to improve English speaking skills is:
1. Avoid Translating- Learn to Think in English!
Simply put, you will fail to speak English fluently if you don’t start learning how to think in English. The following points cover the basic steps you need to follow in order to improve your fluency in English.
Of course it’s the natural reflex when you can’t find the word or expression you need, to turn to your first language and translate. And it does work a lot of the time! But it also leads to the problem of taking too long to make your point. This is because languages are more than just strings of words and phrases. Each has its own set of structures, everyday phrases, order of elements, verb forms, sound systems, cultural references as well as concepts that don’t translate directly from one to another. No wonder it takes so long to become fluent! So, you see that much meaning can get ‘lost in translation’ as the film title puts it!
What is the answer then, if not translating? I go into some detail about the process of learning to think in English in my article To think in English or not to Think in English .
2. Improve your English Speaking Skills – know how you sound!
If you don’t ever listen to how you sound, by recording yourself for example, then you won’t discover what difficulties other people may have in getting what you say. Learners often report, when they do this for the first time, that they’re surprised how good they sound. This is surely the key to having confidence using English, especially around fluent speakers. Others report that they feel they hesitate a lot. Sometimes this may be unfair as we all hesitate a little when we are tired, concentrating too hard, unfamiliar with special terms.
But the real key to evaluating how you sound is to compare yourself to, say, a fluent colleague at work or someone being interviewed on radio. The difference you perceive in use of language generally provides the motivation and inspiration to go forward with fluency training work. Read more on fluency training with English for Professionals. It also builds confidence when you can evaluate how you sound and hear your improvement yourself.
3. Know the basic building blocks of English
You won’t be able to start thinking like a fluent English speaker until you know the basic building blocks of the language and how to use them. One important building block is accurate choice of VERB along with the correct elements of the VERB phrase (tense, modal verb, auxiliary, preposition etc.). In English we place great importance on this part of the sentence as it carries a lot of the information. It is most often towards the beginning of the sentence. A good online grammar course is ideal here.
Another important building block is a good stock of everyday phrases and expressions or those related to a professional area. You need to have used them a few times before you’ll be able to produce them spontaneously when needed. Good ways to find and practise this language are discussed below.
A third important building block that people sometimes forget about is the sound patterns of the English language. You could speak with the most perfect language and it could still be misunderstood if you don’t use expected sounds and sound patterns since they carry and support meaning too. Read more on Pronunciation Training here.
4. Don’t learn long lists of vocabulary!
Why not? Personally, I’ve never been able to learn long lists of vocabulary, despite really wanting to speak reasonable Turkish. I’ve met very few adults who find this easy to do. Well, the good news is, now that we have vast internet resources, there’s another way. And it’s a better way to improve your fluency. Words always occur in a meaningful context when speaking and we need to learn this word context as one unit where possible. So, as you listen to audio, note the whole phrase used by the speaker or the structure used, rather than individual words and use these to retell the speaker’s points (read more below).
5. Learn to speak English fluently by listening to someone speaking English fluently!
We spoke above about listening to English speakers you admire and it’s exactly this type of audio material you will need to work on to build your stock of most useful terms, phrases, sentence structures, signal phrases, sound patterns etc.
The idea is to copy, yes copy!
Copy those who do well what you wish to learn to do. It could be a radio interview with someone you admire, a TED presentation by someone in your professional field or a podcast of various kinds of speakers designed for learning purposes.
No need to reinvent the wheel!
However, my top tip for listening is:
6. Listen to radio interviews….
because they are usually topic based and so contain a lot of key language associated with that topic. They also involve a wide range of question and answer forms and conversational style full of the soft language second language users often miss.
7. Be an active listener
You’ve discovered where the gaps in your spoken communication are. You know where to find quality audio to build your stock of real English, but how do you activate this language for fluent use? Most of the time when we listen to anything, we are focussed on understanding what the speaker is saying. However, when we want to improve our fluency through listening exercises, it’s not enough to simply understand the speaker. Why? Because in getting the point we have unconsciously translated the idea back into our first language. We know the ‘what’ but we haven’t noticed the ‘how’ needed to reproduce it well.
There’s an exercise I do with new clients involving listening to a recording of a good story with a strong punch line. They should retell the story. The ones who succeed usually catch the VERBS in particular, as well as the punchline phrase. Audio is a great source of natural expressions which need to be used immediately once understood. The more immediate the retelling, the more language gets activated.
8. Speak more fluently using 3-part sentences
It’s much easier to speak fluently in CHUNKS than in full sentences. Even when you have activated whole phrases, structures, signal expressions, sound patterns, it’s still not easy to put all those together to form full sentences. Hesitation between individual words is likely and it’s not the way natural English is spoken. Listen to a conversation and you’ll hear the pattern of 2/3 parts. So, try constructing your sentence in 2/3 parts and use a pause between the parts to give you time to mentally prepare for the next part. For example: Oh, I’m sorry // I thought you were waiting for // the number 26 bus
9. Make ‘schwa’ your friend for clear pronunciation
This is the ‘smallest’ vowel sound in spoken English and also the most common one! It’s the one that often replaces other vowels when they are not stressed. Stress patterns (both in words and phrases) are an important component of meaning. Many learners find it difficult to contrast stressed and de stressed vowel sounds sufficiently and ‘schwa’ is the key to success. Read more on pronunciation training here.
10. Don’t Use a Bilingual Dictionary
It’s good to start using an English-English dictionary to improve your English speaking skills as it keeps you thinking in English rather than translating and it also gives you an alternative way of expressing the word or phrase. Cambridge Online Learners Dictionary is ideal. It gives you audio of the British and American pronunciation and a list of different uses of the word, especially good for phrasal verbs.
11. Recycle exercises from your course books
As well as vast internet resources, your course books are ideal for recycling exercises. For example, you can practise imitating the speaker in audio pieces, sentence by sentence. You can memorise a whole sentence from a text or grammar exercise and say it aloud to give you confidence with more complex forms when speaking and help you use meaningful rhythm/ stress. Record yourself doing this and repeat until you’re satisfied with the result. You can take any audio and try to retell it by noting key language as you listen. You can do the same for any text.
12. Finally, don’t try to be perfect!
It’s important to be realistic about your goals. As long as you’re clear most of the time and don’t hesitate too much or take too long to get to the point most of the time, nobody will even notice! It’s also important to understand that even native speakers can have fluency problems with unfamiliar language areas or when they’re nervous. Take your time, breathe in the pause and focus on quality of communication rather than every language detail.