As you progress through your English lessons, your vocabulary will increase, and you will begin to feel more like a native speaker with your command of English grammar and verb tenses.
While you may have considerable knowledge, actually applying it in conversational settings and more formal situations is completely different. What you want is to be able to do this without feeling stressed or confused.
Should you really be using slang terms in official settings? What's the correct way to use this idiom or phrase?
We don't want all your effort to be for nothing, so keep reading for some terrific hints to help you improve your English fluency.
Don't Worry About Accents — Not at First
Depending on who you ask, it appears there are around one hundred and sixty distinct English accents or dialects worldwide!
There are a number of obvious, well-known ones — American, British, Australian — each with particular intonation and vocabulary specific to their region. Then, within each mainstream English accent, there are further variations, e.g. Great Britain also has Scottish, Irish and Welsh dialects of English.
Most people in English speaking countries would be familiar with the Queen's English, or at least the marginally less formal Received Pronunciation (BBC English) through the media, specifically radio and TV presentations.
In the urgency to transition seamlessly into their new country, many 'English as a second language' learners endeavour to pick up every local nuance they can.
As a new arrival, realistically it is going to take you many, many years of practice before you come close to spoken English patterns that duplicate the pronunciation of your new neighbours and colleagues.
Fluency hint number one: trying to replicate the speech patterns of your neighbours should be your lowest priority — initially
Rest assured that, once you've been in your new country for a while, and you're confidently functioning in society and daily life, you'll automatically start to integrate the intonation and accent around you. You won't even realise you're doing it.
Even at an English For Beginners Level — Try to Avoid Translating!
When you start to learn any second language, your natural response is to support your comprehension by translating everything you hear and read into your native language.
The same thing happens in reverse, language learners, particularly those at a beginning level, will frequently rely on thinking about what they want to say in their home language before they translate it into English.
By the time you reach an intermediate level in your English lessons, you should no longer be relying on this translation process.
For non-native English speakers, one of the biggest causes of confusion is when they interpret phrases literally.
It might be lack of confidence, or perhaps an impatience to practise and use their English, but many ESL speakers, or anyone new to learning English, will often seriously take everything that is said at face value — i.e. literally.
Second hint for fluency: not everything can be taken literally
Those who have been learning English for a while in Australia will already be aware that the English language in this country is brimming with wonderful plays on words, and fun phrases. However, if you take these exactly as they are said, you're in for a world of miscommunication.
Try taking this sentence literally: 'I've been flat out all day.'
If you translate this literally, you may think it means that the speaker has been lying around all day, doing nothing.
Actually, 'flat out' it means the opposite — it's Aussie slang for 'really busy'.
In conversation with native English speakers, try to practise listening to everything that's said in context. Focus on the nuance rather than translating each individual word.
Finding out what English slang and idioms mean as a whole, and not worrying about how they translate, will help you build your fluency.
Improve Your English With Colloquialisms, Idioms and Slang
Spoken English is full of slang and 'peculiar' expressions.
Aussie lingo is part of life in Oz. It's on the goggle-box and in the daily rag. Your mates might say you're a wally but there's no need to spit the dummy. At the end of the day, they'll make sure everything's apples and they'll never leave you up a gum tree. Aussies love a battler.
Does this sound like English, or is it too lighthearted?
Here's the standard English interpretation:
Australian English is part of life in Australia. It's on the television and in the daily newspaper. Your friends might say you make a lot of mistakes but there's no need to get upset. At the end of the day, they'll make sure everything's alright and they'll never leave you on your own. Australians love a person who tries hard.
Slang is clearly a lot less proper than formal spoken English — and there's a time and place for it. But it's a lot of fun.
Third fluency hint: learn some slang and practise it in informal settings
If you are only at an English for beginners stage, you may not feel confident to speak using slang or colloquial phrases but this shouldn't stop you learning a few slang expressions. At the very least, if you're aware of these expressions, it will improve your listening skills and understanding.
The more English you understand, the more your confidence in your speaking skills will grow. And confidence equals fluency.
Improving Fluency with Contractions and Linking Sounds
When you look at it, English is a rather unwieldy language with lots of little words and sounds peppered throughout it. Luckily, native speakers don't necessarily articulate every word, giving each sound equal emphasis — can you imagine how toneless and tedious that would sound?
Do not worry. You will learn quickly.
Whether you're studying English online or in face-to-face classes, you would have been expected to write each word in full, with no contractions. This is necessary for formal writing, and will certainly develop your skills in writing and spelling English.
When it comes to spoken English, however, it sounds much more natural to use contractions. You can see how well the sentences below flow now:
- Don't worry. You'll learn quickly.
Hint number four: get into using contractions to improve your fluency
Along with contractions, it is also important you are aware of linking sounds.
In your English as a foreign language classes, you would have been told that English words are single units. Anybody teaching English will want you to pronounce each word clearly.
However, this is not the way native English speakers talk. Consider these sentences:
- Is it your first year? (Zit ya firs-cheer?)
- Where are you going to go? (Wairya gunna go?)
Linking words and sounds makes English sentences easier and quicker to say.
Not only will your comprehension skills improve, so will your fluency if you discover the secret to linking words.
Of course, the best way to improve is by practising your newly acquired speaking skills.
If you want to learn English and speak like a native, listen carefully to how they form their words, use contractions and link sounds.
Improve Your Spoken English by Learning Phrases
Increasing your bank of English vocabulary and grasping all those grammar rules are still essential if you want to improve your English when you're at a beginning or intermediate level.
At an advanced level, or if you need English for business, you really need to focus on mastering entire phrases if you want your fluency to improve.
An understanding of phrases has a double benefit — more vocabulary and known words in context.
Of course, the greatest benefit is comprehension when you hear them used in conversation.
Once you learn a phrase, practise it by using the substitution strategy. This is extremely effective when it comes to increasing fluency. A simple example is:
I'll meet you at the library. (cafe, book store, train station, etc.)
Changing the location helps improve your recall of vocabulary, helps you think in English more quickly, and challenges your grammar knowledge.
Learning English by Singing Along to Your Favourite Songs
ESL classes often encourage students to watch the news or documentaries on television as a way to consolidate speech patterns and mirror presenters.
This is a great strategy, but it shouldn't be your only form of English listening practice.
Remember, news presenters often use a more formal style of English, rather than the conversational style that is more suited for daily use.
A useful alternative is to use music to help improve your speaking skills.
A wide range of song lyrics are available online for free. Once you have the words, the only thing left to do is to copy the singer's articulation.
The speed of the songs can help with your fluency and the rhythm provides some variety.
The more modern and popular a song is, the more likely you are to pick up on current slang and fashionable phrases.
Here are a few more hints to help you improve your English:
- Practise away from the classroom, and develop an understanding of Australian comedy, by watching shows on television.
- Initiate conversations by talking about a TV show you watched last night — you might even be able to throw in a phrase or expression you heard.
- You may watch excerpts from movies in your classes. Look these up and watch the whole thing — and include the English subtitles to see what dialogue looks like. Movies and television are fantastic because there is no pressure to respond.
- ABC Education has some great online resources, including lessons and podcasts on everyday topics of interest or daily life scenarios.
- Check Google for 'English courses in Sydney', or any other city that is nearby where you live.
If you use your imagination and a bit of initiative, you'll be achieving your fluency goals in no time.
Above all, the best method is to get out there and use your English every day. Do this and your fluency will flourish.
Then, once you're fluent, have a go at mastering that accent you were so desperate to achieve at the start.