Speaking English Fluently - 5 Simple Tips to Consider
English is a Crazy Language
An Introduction to the English Language
In teaching skills related to spoken English for several years now, I've always come across students and friends who say, "You speak such good English".
Yes, it happens when you live in a country like mine where we speak more than one language, and not just English.
Frankly, I don't take any credit for being able to speak this way because of an excellent teacher that we had in high school - Ms. Tara Ravindra. An Oxford graduate who was flawless when speaking and writing in English. But I'll also admit that this acquired fluency in English has given us that edge in Life...
It really set the standards for us... and we had to raise the bar so as to not incur her displeasure in the way we spoke and wrote. We loved her then... and we respect her even more as we grow older.
But what does it take to speak good English, one might ask? Not all of us have teachers from Oxford, you know.
Simply put, there is no such thing as "good or bad English" - that's probably not how you should look at it.
Thanks to the British who spread their tentacles all over the world only a few centuries or so ago, English has steadily and surely become the most popular language used today. With this, a large number of dialects have formed with Received Pronunciation, Standard American English as well as Standard Australian English being the standards that just about anyone must aspire to attain if we are to master the art of speaking English fluently.
You might say - yes, they speak 'good' English and we don't. I beg to differ, and for that we must understand the purpose of a language.
Since the purpose of language is to communicate one's thoughts and feelings in a manner that is understandable by others, for a start, that's really all one needs to focus on. In other words, to communicate in a manner where other people get what you are saying clearly.
And in order for you to do that, you have to break down what English consists of, and which we will cover in the next section.
When English Teachers Snap
The English Language - Breaking It Down
While there are several people who have been certified to teach English the "right" way, and get a bit huffy about it, I think that's really detrimental to the students that they cater to.
Well, after all, a teacher's job is to inspire their students and not discourage their learning. That happens with some English teachers - the proverbial know-it-alls.
But I digress.
Simply put, being able to use English requires one to learn its two components - written and spoken, much like any other language. Conventionally, the language is best taught from the ground up - using the 'building blocks' concept.
Just like you require bricks to build an entire home, learning the basic units of written and spoken English, also leads to a sound understanding and use of the English language.
For written English, we first begin with learning alphabets and then graduate to words which when put together make sentences clearly expressing an idea. Letters, by themselves mean nothing and words, while being able to describe a person, thing or action still does not convey as much meaning as a sentence does.
In other words, perfecting the art of writing a sentence correctly... is what English is all about, at the basic level.
As for spoken English, we first learn sounds, the pronunciation of words (which are made of phonetic sounds) and how to put them all together in a cohesive sentence. Yet again, one will not be able to convey a message adequately by just using words but would need to construct an sentence based on the conventional rules of grammar taught in written English.
Speaking of grammar, learning each part of speech (noun, pronoun, verb etc.) as well as their function also play an important part in understanding how the language is used - an element crucial to both spoken and written English.
Finally, there's one more aspect that plays a crucial role in conveying meaning - punctuation. This is sadly one of the most overlooked aspects when English is taught in countries that are in and around the Orient.
And if there's anything that's true about both spoken and written English, it is the fact that the language mutates over time and more importantly, contains just as many exceptions as there are rules.
An aspect that makes the language so much more difficult to understand and use, as opposed to a language like Hindi, which is visibly more consistent, regardless of the changing times, in its written and spoken form.
Yes, English is a non-phonetic language which simply means that the words are, more often than not, NOT spelled how they sound. You'll also notice that there are far more phonetic sounds as opposed to letters in the English alphabet, and which can really cause problems for those whose native languages are phonetic in nature.
If that's not enough, most people who attempt to learn English come with influences such as an accent which is based on the language they used when growing up - and which causes them to struggle with certain sounds that some of us don't have a problem with at all.
But what will throw off most first-time English speakers is the fact that there are not only several ways to pronounce a word but numerous ways by which they are spelt, and can be attributed to the dialects of English that have formed for the better part of the 21st century.
I'm sure many of you would find yourself nodding your head when recognizing these complexities that we're left to grapple with, when learning English.
Yet there are ways to speed up your ability to learn how to speak (and write in basic) English in a manner so that people understand the message that you intend to convey, and which will be covered as simple tips in the next section.
Yes, practice makes perfect...
Speaking English Fluently - 5 Simple Tips
I'm sure there are a few of you who are thinking: I've learned English in the manner described earlier, but why am I not confident?
First off, I must apologize on behalf of some people who are a bit too arrogant about the fact that they can speak one dialect of English, and don't have a problem rubbing it in, while being ignorant of that fact.
(For some people, learning a language might not be so difficult whereas the same cannot be said about minding their manners. Feel free to ignore them. Completely. Even if it's an English teacher, mind you!)
Apart from getting these snobbish people out of your hair, there are a few other things that can help you in improving how you speak English, if only to be more understandable, simple though they be.
So, without further ado, here are 5 simple tips that can contribute to the ability of speaking English fluently, and ones that continue to help me:
#1: No One speaks Perfect English
No matter who it is, almost everyone who can speak or write in English makes mistakes. We're human, after all. Realizing this should help you overcome any negative feelings that prevents you to speak or write in English at every given opportunity.
The more you speak and write in English, the better you will get. That's a fact, and all the Grammar and Received Pronunciation lessons in the world can only do so much. This principle applies to us all, no matter which level of English we are at.
For the simple reason, that English is a skill, and must be developed by practice. Much like riding a bicycle...
(Being a writer, I've noticed a big change this year from the way I used to write in 2010 because I worked at it ceaselessly for three years.)
#2: Read, Watch the News, Converse with People Who You Think Speak English Well
An important aspect of writing well in English involves reading. I mean, read everything that you can find. Whether it is Charles Dickens or Louis L'Amour novels or even short stories by Isaac Asimov. Respected local newspaper,international publications and magazines are a great help in this regard as well.
Keep on reading, and you'll soon see how it improves your vocabulary and most notably sentence construction as well. When you see examples of how sentences are constructed correctly, in a book, you'll begin to write in a similar fashion.
And yes, start as soon as possible...
As for spoken English, watching the news is probably one of the best ways by which you can learn the pronunciation of certain words, and how news anchors convey a message using several sentences with flawless syllable and word stress as well as the pauses. Listening to them will help you correct any mistakes in pronunciation, intonation or syllable stress that you might have not got yet.
As mentioned earlier, learning English is a skill, and it is only when you use it at every opportunity that you can master it as the years go by. Make friends with people who you think speak fluent English, and hang out with them so as to converse with them. You won't regret it.
#3: Limit the Usage of Other Languages
One of the biggest reasons why people make little or no progress when it comes to speaking English fluently is because of the other languages that they use as well. No, I'm not asking you to stop using it altogether but to speak in English instead - at least, for a while.
The reason for this is because some people tend to use English in an identical fashion as they would use their native language. For example, it's not uncommon to say 'Subah subah.." (which can be translated as 'morning' in English) in Hindi but it does sound a bit weird when you say 'Morning, morning..." when you speak in English - a common Indianism that we run into every other day.
The reason for this is because when people are forming sentences to speak, they are actually thinking of words in a particular language in their mind, and it sure helps if that language is English. So, let me reiterate, THINK IN ENGLISH, and then you will speak in English as well!
Also, when you limit the use of other languages, this presents an opportunity to speak in English and as mentioned earlier, more practice means more fluency.
(Well, most Westerners only speak one language - could that tell you why they're so good at English in the first place?)
#4: The Dictionary is Your Bible
Regardless of who you are, using a dictionary and a thesaurus is important, especially if you want to expand your vocabulary or even sharpen your 'word usage' ability. First off, the dictionary is used to find the meaning (or definition) of a particular word.
However, one can also learn the pronunciation of the word in question by learning the phonetic notations of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), and which is usually placed next to the word when you find it in the dictionary.
If you use the internet like I do, then using dictionary.com to find the meaning of the word 'oxymoron' will show a small 'speaker' next to the word, which when clicked, will help you with the pronunciation, if you aren't too confident of using the IPA. [Look at the figure below, and the part circled in red.]
The reason why this is so important to do is because English is a non-phonetic language, and you HAVE TO MEMORIZE the pronunciation of every word, since there's a disconnect between spoken and written English.
As for using a thesaurus, its function is to provide the seeker with synonyms. But please be aware that replacing one word for another in a sentence of English isn't as simple as it might look. Always do some research on how you can use these words in a sentence, please. The internet has enough and more resources to help you with that!
#5: Play Word games
Another reason why people might not be very enthusiastic about learning English is probably because it does seem a little stuck-up thanks to the way it is taught in a classroom. So, why not play a few word games to improve your English instead?
While there are quite a few word games you can find, my favorite is Scrabble, which really tests your ability to use 7 letters to construct words for points. You can be sure that after playing a few hundred games on Facebook, you'll have a larger vocabulary and make some friends as well. Of course, you'll need a dictionary for this game too...
Before we wind up, let me say that it's a good idea not to pretend that learning English is easy. It isn't. I know this, and you should too, especially if you weren't born and brought up in a Western country.
Make mistakes. That's the only way you will learn. Ignore criticism. Instead use those negative remarks to work harder and be open to suggestions - ALWAYS.
With that said, remember that speaking English should be learnt with the purpose of being clear, simple and understandable in your communication - style, in the form of idiomatic expressions and big words, can come later.
For those of you who felt you gained something from this writing, please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Hope this helped!
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