Every good English learner always knows that people tend to give compliments on their speaking the most, right? No one would say “Wow! You write English like a native”, but they rather say “Wow! You speak English like a native speaker”. That’s what English learners wish to achieve.
It's not easy to become fluent in English like a native speaker. Yet, there are many things you can do to sound more natural when speaking the language.
1. Get used to different English accents
There are many different accents used by people who speak English as their first language. There are different accents in London, Newcastle, Manchester, and a lot of other places in England. There are also Australian, American, Canadian, and even Indian accents. For example, in British accents, in some words, the letter “r” is not pronounced unless a vowel follows it. Meanwhile, American English does the opposite.
Being familiar with different accents helps you to understand people better and communicate effectively with them. It can also prevent miscommunication and misunderstandings. Moreover, you can gain a better understanding of the cultural diversity and differences that exist within the English-speaking world.
Tip: Although knowing different English accents is good, you should choose for yourself a particular accent to follow in order not to mess up with vocabulary and pronunciation.
2. Let’s not forget about pronunciation
It’s about stress, rhythm, and intonation. As in any language, these elements are very important for speech fluency as well.
By placing stress on certain words, speakers can convey important information or highlight the most significant parts of a sentence. For example, consider the sentence "I didn't say he stole my money." Depending on which word is emphasized, the meaning can change.
"I didn't say he stole my money." suggests that he stole somebody else's money.
"I didn't say he stole my money." implies that he did something else with it.
Correct stress leads the way to correct rhythm. By speaking with the correct rhythm, speakers can make their speech sound more natural and easier to understand.
Last but not least, intonation, which is the element that blows souls into your speech when you speak English. Nobody wants to speak English in a monotone. Intonation refers to the rise and fall of the pitch of the voice in a sentence. This can convey a range of emotions and attitudes, such as surprise, excitement, or skepticism. By using appropriate intonation, speakers can add meaning and a sense of nature to their speech.
Tip: The more you practice speaking English aloud, the more natural stress, rhythm, and intonation will become. You can practice speaking by yourself (recording yourself speaking can be a helpful way to identify areas where you need to improve) or find a language exchange partner to practice with.
3. Go with the “flow” of English
When native English speakers start talking, they do a lot of things with words that you cannot see in the written word. You may have perfected your pronunciation of every word in the language, but you still don't sound natural when you speak it. That’s because you also need to have the right flow.
Link sounds: When two words are right next to each other and one ends with a consonant and the other starts with a vowel, a native speaker says the consonant and vowel together.
- Get up = get_up
- Come on = com_on
- I’d like a fried egg = I’d lik_a fried_egg
Contractions: Native speakers use short words created by combining two separate words in order to speak faster.
- I will = I’ll
- He is = He’s
- You are = You’re
- They are = They’re
Remove sounds: When "t" or "d" sounds come between two consonant sounds, they often go away from the pronunciation.
- I must go = I mus_go
- Next year = Nex_year
- Left hand = Lef_hand
- I don’t know how to speak English = I don_know how to speak English
Tip: One of the most important things you can do to improve flow is to find a role model. This can be anyone, from your English teacher to a random native-speaking Youtuber on the Internet. Listening to native speakers is a great way to improve your speaking skills. But simply listening is not enough – you must also mimic what you hear to make progress.
4. Start using slang and idioms (in moderation)
By listening to native speakers, you’ll undoubtedly pick up a few funny phrases known as idioms, which often have a particular meaning that is different from the meanings of each word on its own. Native speakers love to use them in their conversations, which can be difficult for non-native speakers to understand. Learning them can help you sound more natural and be better able to understand and participate in conversations with native speakers. For example, idioms such as:
“Not a chance” (impossible)
“You bet” (certainly)
“Piece of cake” (very easy)
“When pigs fly” (impossible to happen)
adding color and depth to the communication, making it more interesting and engaging and a sense of nature to you when you speak English.
Tip: There are simply too many idioms to learn them all. It's much more practical to focus on learning the ones that are most commonly used in everyday communication. Some idioms may be outdated or no longer used in modern language, so learning them may not be very beneficial.
About slang, like idioms, is something that native speakers use all the time, almost without thinking. It is a type of expression that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people. You'll find that English slang is different in different English-speaking countries.
For example, a British person might say, “I’m hammered" while an American might say, "I'm wasted." Both expressions mean that the person is very drunk.
Tip: As slang is usually considered informal, you shouldn’t use it in a formal or professional context.
4. Pay attention to pace and clarity
The pace at which you speak English can show if you are a native speaker or not. If you talk too fast, it can be hard for people to understand what you're saying. If you talk too slowly, the conversation can drag on and people may lose interest. It's important to find the right pace so that the listener can keep up and understand what the speaker is saying.
Tip: Good breathing can help you speak more clearly and at a more measured pace. Take deep breaths before speaking and try to breathe regularly as you speak.