5 Steps to English Fluency
Before we talk about how to speak English fluently, we have to talk about what English fluency is. Many people think it is simply the ability to speak a language. However, there are many aspects of speaking any language fluently. Being fluent means your speaking flows without stopping or hesitating.
Fluency involves two sides: physical and mental. Physically, your mouth needs to develop the ability to produce the words coming from your mind. Mentally, your brain needs to develop the ability to find and produce words, phrases and sentences quickly and smoothly.
Now that we’ve talked about what fluency is, let’s focus on how we can work on the physical and mental aspects in 5 steps.
Step 1: Put Yourself Out There and Speak
If you really want to become fluent in English, the most important thing to do is get out there and practice speaking English. It’s important to talk to different people and engage in conversation.
Speaking is different from other types of subjects. It is a practical skill and you can’t learn it from a book. The key to becoming skilled is to practice speaking regularly.
Many of our students have similar replies to this piece of advice, such as: “I don’t have anyone to talk to”, “I live in a different country and people don’t speak English”, “I feel shy because I can’t speak English well”.
Step 2 will go over these replies.
Step 2: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Learning languages is not easy. There are times when you don’t know how to express your ideas, and you have to learn how to explain your meaning in a completely different way.
Sometimes, learners believe that they will reach a point when learning English is suddenly comfortable and simple. Unfortunately, unless you immerse yourself 100% in an English-speaking country and culture, that is not likely.
I have studied several languages, but even though I can speak some of them very well, the process is still not comfortable. So, knowing this, it’s important to simply accept that you’re not going to feel comfortable, and embrace that feeling! The sooner you do, the sooner you will become comfortable being uncomfortable. This will give you the courage to get out there and practice.
From my own experience, I’ve always hated making phone calls in other languages. This is because I can’t use facial expressions or body language to guess the speaker’s meaning. When I lived in Russia, I was very uncomfortable making phone calls in Russian. After that, I lived in China, where I also hated making phone calls in Chinese. Now, I’m studying Greek and I still hate making phone calls!
The point here is that making phone calls hasn’t become easier for me, but I’ve accepted that. I am now prepared to feel uncomfortable, and I move forward and make phone calls anyway.
You can apply this to your experience in learning English. You might hate something different, like giving presentations, or having small talk. So it’s important to accept that you will continue to be uncomfortable with that activity. If you really want to become fluent, it’s important to move forward and do it anyway.
Now that you know the most important point to improve your fluency, let’s talk about how to practice.
Step 3: Use Speed-Reading
Practicing in this way is very useful because you can speed-read anywhere. You can also practice for as long as you have time to for.
The first thing you need to do is find something short to read. It can be a newspaper article, blog post, page from a book, or anything else you choose. Make sure it is relatively easy for you and is within your English level.
Then, get a timer. Set the timer and read the text aloud.
After you do this once, read it again. Try to read the text faster than your previous time.
Continue repeating for five, fifteen or thirty minutes and see how fast you can read the text.
Why am I telling you to do this?
This is part of the physical side of fluency. It is training your mouth to produce the English sounds quickly and smoothly as you read.
Let’s look at another useful technique you can use to improve your English fluency.
Step 4: Use Songs
Both speed-reading and songs are helpful for the physical side of becoming fluent.
For this step, find an English song you like. Then, find the lyrics. You can usually find them online by typing the song name and ‘lyrics’ into a search engine.
Then, play the song and sing along! You can use the lyrics to make sure you’re saying the right words.
This will help you practice saying the words with the speed of the song. That’s why it’s a good idea to start with slower songs. After a while, you can practice with faster songs. Try to get to a level where you can sing, but you are still challenged with the speed.
This technique is very helpful for the physical side of speaking English fluently. It’s also not hard to add to your schedule. Even if you practice one song a day, it will help! I used this approach when I was learning Chinese and it really helped me.
Okay, so we’ve talked about the physical side of English fluency. Let’s talk about mental methods to speak English fluently.
Step 5: Learn English in Pieces
Using this technique will help you remember more English and rely less on translation to your own language.
What methods do you use now to learn new vocabulary? For many of our students, they will learn a word, translate it to their own language, and then try to memorise it.
Why is this a bad idea? It is not natural for your brain to learn language in this way. It is used to producing phrases and sentences to convey meaning.
Also, when you always translate to your own language, you are not really learning the language. You are learning English through the meaning of your own language. This is not a sustainable way to learn, and you can have trouble improving.
We see some students with bad habits: They start with a sentence in their own language, translate it to English word-by-word, and then if they don’t know the word, they get stuck and become less confident to speak.
This is a slow, difficult way to speak any language. You are basically speaking two languages at once!
How can you break this habit?
Well, we mentioned that you need phrases and sentences to speak. So, you should study English phrases and sentences.
We have an example for you. What if someone asks: “What are your career plans?”
You could say:
- I’d like to get a promotion to project manager.
- I want to stay with this company.
- I’m planning to start my own business.
Now, you can use the introductory phrases to make your own answers:
- I’d like to __.
- I want to __.
- I’m planning to __.
Try to practice. Create at least two sentences for each phrase.
Now, if someone asks you the question “What are your career plans?” you only need to remember two pieces:
- (I’d like to) + (get a promotion to project manager)
- (I’d like to) + (stay with this company)
- (I’d like to) + (start my own business)
Remembering language like this helps you speak more fluently.
How is this different from translating each word in your head before you speak? Well, with this technique, you only have to remember two things. When you translate, you have to remember every word! This can become very frustrating.
So, practice learning new language in English like this. You can do it with a variety of sentences. For example:
- I’m going for a walk tomorrow.
Keep this basic structure, but change a certain part of it:
- I’m __ tomorrow.
Try to make at least 2 different sentences:
- I’m working on a project tomorrow.
- I’m waking up early tomorrow.
Then, you can practice each piece of the sentence and put new sentences together like a puzzle.
When you have these pieces in your mind, you become more fluent because you can recall them quickly.
From here, you can use other techniques to learn and remember the vocabulary you want to study.
Hopefully you found these steps useful. Good luck on your journey to speaking English fluently!
Oli is an English teacher from the U.K. who created Oxford Online English in 2013. This is an online English school offering live classes, level tests, and free English lessons to students worldwide.