Sometimes, when people talk about fluency, they just mean speaking a language well. For some people, speaking English fluently just means having a good general level of English.
However, fluency is more specific than that. Fluency means you can speak smoothly, without stopping or hesitating.
There are two sides to fluency. One side is physical: your mouth needs to produce and connect English sounds and words in a fast, smooth way.
The other side of fluency is mental: your brain needs to find the right words and build English sentences quickly and smoothly.
To speak English fluently, you need to work on both sides: physical and mental.
2. Rule Number One: Get Out There and Speak!
There are many things you can do to improve your English fluency.
However, if you want to become more fluent, there’s really one thing you have to do.
Get out there and speak English. Talk to people and have conversations regularly. Nothing else you can do is as important as this.
Reading English will improve your reading. Practicing listening will improve your listening.
But what about speaking? Nothing will help your speaking except speaking.
Speaking English is a practical skill. It’s not an academic subject; it’s not something you can learn from a book.
It’s more like doing a sport or playing a musical instrument: you need to practice regularly to make any progress.
How regularly? As often as you can!
There’s no maximum, but I’d recommend you need to spend at least 2-3 hours a week speaking English if you want to improve.
So, how can you do this?
Go to classes, talk to expats in your city, join groups or activities with English-speakers, find a conversation partner online, do a language exchange; there are many possibilities!
By the way, what you do doesn’t have to be language-focused. You can go to English classes to practice your speaking, but anything you do which is in English and which will make you speak English is just as good.
I’m going to take a guess here about what many of you are thinking right now: “But I don’t have people to talk to”; “But I’m shy”; “But it’s too difficult.”
Let’s talk about that quickly.
3. Get Used to Pressure
Speaking a foreign language is hard. Situations which would be easy in your language can feel difficult in another language. Situations which would feel difficult in your language can feel almost impossible when you have to do them in a foreign language.
That’s how it is. It’s easy to imagine when you start learning another language that you will reach a point where everything is easy and comfortable.
Unless you live in a foreign country and live completely inside that culture, that won’t happen. Trust me—I’ve studied several languages at this point, and speak them quite well, but it never feels easy or comfortable.
Why are we talking about this? I’m trying to motivate you to go out and speak more, practice more. To do that, you have to accept that it will feel difficult, uncomfortable and intimidating a lot of the time.
That’s how it is—don’t let it stop you! You can still practice, you can still communicate, and you can still improve.
I’ll give you an example of this from my own experience. I hate making phone calls in another language. I don’t know why, but I find it particularly intimidating. I guess because I can’t use context or facial expressions or anything like that to help me communicate.
I lived in Russia and I studied Russian. I hated making phone calls in Russian. Then I lived in China and I studied Chinese. I hated making phone calls in Chinese. Now I’m studying Greek. Guess what? I hate making phone calls in Greek.
It still feels just as difficult and just as intimidating. I haven’t learned any tricks to make it easier. All I’ve done is that I accept that this is how it feels. That’s it. I still do it, because I have to sometimes.
I just accept that I’m going to feel nervous or uncomfortable, and I have to speak and communicate anyway.
This will be the same for you sometimes. It might be phone calls; it might be something else.
The key point? You have to accept and learn to deal with that pressure. Don’t think: it feels scary, so I won’t do it. It won’t feel less scary in the future. The only way to make it easier is to go out and do it.
Okay, so you know the most important point about fluency, but is there anything else you can do to practice? Yes, there is!
Find a text in English. It can be something from a textbook, from a newspaper, from a blog, or anywhere.
The text should be fairly easy for you. Don’t pick something with a lot of new words or something which is way above your current English level.
Sit down with a timer. Read the text aloud. Time yourself.
Now, read it again. Try to beat your previous time!
Keep going like this. See how fast you can read the text.
What’s this for?
Remember that part of fluency is physical. Your mouth needs to produce English sounds and English words fast and smoothly.
Speed reading like this is a good way to practice that side of fluency.
This way of practicing is really useful because you can do it almost anywhere and you can also do as much or as little as you have time for. You can do five minutes practice or fifteen minutes, or half an hour. It’s all helpful!
Let’s see another good technique like this:
5. Using Songs
Find a song in English. Choose something you like.
Find the lyrics online. If you don’t know where to look, just put the song title and the word ‘lyrics’ into Google. You’ll find them.
Play the song. Read the lyrics. Sing!
Like with speed reading, this is a good technique to practice the physical side of fluency. When you sing a song, you have to go at the speed of the song.
Start with slower songs, then choose faster ones. Try to choose something that’s possible but challenging, so you can sing the song, but it’s difficult to go fast enough.
Again, this will really help with your physical fluency. It’s also easy to do; you can do one song a day, and I promise you that you will feel a difference quite quickly. I used this technique a lot when I was learning Chinese, and it really helped.
Speed reading and singing songs are good for physical fluency, but what about the mental side of fluency?
Let’s see what you can do to improve that.
6. Learn Language in Chunks
Here’s a question: how do you learn vocabulary?
When I see students learning vocabulary, often people write down the English word, the translation in their own language, and then they try to memorise it.
Okay, but what does that have to do with fluency?
Think about it: if you learn language like this, you’re making your brain do things in a very unnatural and complicated way.
First of all, you’re learning each word individually. But, when you speak a language, you don’t need individual words, you need phrases and sentences.
Secondly, if you do this, you’re learning English through your own language. You’re not learning to speak English, you’re trying to learn to translate your language into English in your head.
So, does this sound familiar? You have a sentence in your head in your own language. You move through the sentence, translating each word into English.
If you don’t know the translation of a word, you get stuck, you feel bad about your English, and you stop speaking.
You need to break this habit if you want to speak fluently. First of all, this way of thinking and speaking is always slow. It will always be slow, because you’re trying to do too many things at once.
You’re trying to think and remember things in two languages—it’s too difficult for anybody.
So what can you do?
We said before that you need phrases and sentences when you speak. So, learn language in phrases and sentences.
For example, imagine that someone asks you:
- What are you doing this weekend?
Look at three answers:
- I’m going to see some old friends.
- I’m thinking of going for a bike ride.
- I might do some odd jobs around the house.
Now, make your own sentences:
- I’m going to ________.
- I’m thinking of ________.
- I might ________.
Try to make two or three sentences for each one, so that you use different endings.
Now think: if someone asks you this question:
- What are you doing this weekend?
If you remember language in big pieces, you only have to remember two things:
- (I’m going to) + (see some old friends).
- (I’m going to) + (have dinner with my family).
- (I’m going to) + (watch some old movies).
That makes it easy to respond to questions like this fluently.
On the other hand, if you make a sentence in your language in your head, and then translate each word into English, it’s much more complicated. You don’t just have to remember two things; you have to remember many things.
So, try to learn vocabulary in this way. Take a sentence like:
- I went for a walk yesterday.
Keep the basic sentence form, but change part of it:
Now, make 2-3 different sentences:
- I took an exam yesterday.
- I was lazy all day yesterday.
- I cooked a spicy curry yesterday.
Now, practice and remember the sentences and phrases. This is a much more natural way to learn vocabulary.
If you learn vocabulary like this, it will be much easier to respond fluently, because you won’t need to think in your own language and translate. You’ll remember the whole phrases and sentences that you need.
It’s also helpful to use a vocabulary notebook to keep track of your new words and phrases as you continue learning.
Thanks for watching, see you next time!