Many people have asked us how they can improve their spoken fluency. Here we would like to cover this important topic and give you advice, ideas and resources to help you improve your English fluency!
What is fluency?
Before talking about how you can improve your fluency it’s important to know what we mean by fluency. This is a difficult term to define. There are many ideas on what fluency means. If you are interested in reading more about it you can find interesting definitions on fluency here.
We are going to define fluency as the ability to speak in English in all situations in a natural way without difficulty. It’s very important to note here that being fluent doesn’t mean being perfect. It doesn’t means speaking without making any mistakes. It doesn’t mean that you speak exactly as you speak in your native language.
The truth about fluency
The bad news: gaining fluency in spoken English does not happen in one day. It takes time, effort and training. You have to be dedicated to it and spend time improving it.
The good news: it is totally possible to improve your fluency! Many people have done it and you can too!
Something needs to happen in your brain. To gain fluency, you need to build a network of neuronal connections. These neuronal connections need to be recorded by your procedural memory. This is the part of your long-term memory in charge of knowing how to do something. Find out more about how we learn a language here.
How you feel affects how you speak. This is true for your native language and any other language that you are learning to speak. Do you speak the same in front of one friend as you do in front of 100 strangers? When you feel nervous or stressed or worried or embarrassed it affects how well you speak. It’s important to be relaxed and confident when speaking in English. This will help you speak more fluently.
Don’t worry about making mistakes. Remember you are not looking for perfection! Your objective is to give a clear message in English and not have perfect grammar. Trust yourself and trust the natural process of your brain and the nueral connections it is making. Your brain works in the same way as everyone else's brain. If other people can learn English fluently, so can you!
Tips, techniques & resources
There are many ways of improving your English fluency. Some of the techniques we mention here will work better for some people and other techniques will be better for other people. The most important thing is that you try a variety of activities and you find what works for you.
1. Immerse yourself in English by building a daily English routine
To really master English you need to start using and experiencing (not studying) it in a constant and regular way. The best way to do this is by creating a daily routine in English. The idea is to find moments in your day when you can do an enjoyable activity in English. This can be while having breakfast, travelling to work, on your lunch break, while doing exercise etc. You can find loads of great ideas to help you build a daily English routine here.
2. Listen to English A LOT
Listening to English is really important for improving your spoken English. You need to do three things to make sure that your listening practice is effective:
- Choose the right level of listening material.
- Listen to a variety of material.
- Listen a lot! You need to build a regular routine of listening.
There are so many things you can listen to, here are just some ideas:
3. Speak in English A LOT
This sounds very obvious, but it is really important to find as many ways of introducing speaking practice into your English routine. The best way of improving your spoken fluency is by speaking in many different natural contexts. Try to find situations or people that you feel comfortable with and remember to focus on communicating a clear message and not worry too much about your grammar mistakes. The key to fluency is to be able to communicate naturally and without difficulty in all situations. A great idea is to do an online language exchange.
4. Talk to yourself in English
This is a really powerful technique for improving your spoken English fluency. It might feel strange at the beginning, but after some time it will feel natural. The idea is to create an inner monologue in English while you are doing normal daily activities. Basically, you talk to yourself!! For example, when you are brushing your teeth in the morning you can think about your plan for the day: “When I get to the office I must check if I have a new email from that new client. Then I should try to arrange a meeting with the accounts team…” You can find more details on this technique here.
5. Speak only in English. Do not translate!
When you are speaking in English it is really important that you DO NOT use your native language. The key to gaining fluency is to think in English and use only the English words that you know to explain everything that you need. Do not translate from your mother tongue! We know it's difficult, but it is a really important technique to master if you want to gain spoken fluency.
- When you find yourself looking for a word in your native language, stop and try to think of words that you already know in English to describe that ‘new’ word or concept. For example, I don’t know the word ‘communication’ in English, but I can explain this concept with words that I already have: talking and listening to people.
- You will never know all the words in the English language. Even native English speakers (myself included!) don’t know all the words in English.
As explained in number 5, you don’t need to know all the words in the English language. It’s important to be selective! We recommend that you keep a notebook of key vocabulary for speaking. This vocabulary could include the following:
- Vocabulary related to your typical topics of conversation. This could include a particular hobby or interest that you like talking about, your job or studies, your culture or family.
- Conversational connectors and typical responses.
- Typical phrases that are used in English in social situations, such as “What’s up?” instead of “How are you?”
- What phrases or words do you use most often in your native language? Make a list and then find out how to say them in English. This will help you feel more comfortable and more like yourself when you are speaking in English.
7. Sing along to English songs
Music is a really effective way of learning English. It can specifically help with your fluency. Listening to songs and singing them takes advantage of our naturally strong links between music and memory. Research has found that singing words or short phrases in a foreign language as a part of your learning routine can make you a better speaker in that language (Ludke, Ferreira &Overy, 2014) Once again, it’s important that you choose the right level of listening.
- Here are some great ideas on listening to music in English.
- You can also find a selection of great songs on our YouTube channel. We have created two lists: easy and intermediate.
8. Repetition techniques
You could try one of these two repetition techniques to help you improve your spoken fluency.
- While watching something in English (YouTube video, series, film etc.) repeat some of the sentences that you hear. You don’t have to repeat everything. Be selective, choose the phrases that you like or that you would like to be able to use in conversation. The idea is that you try to repeat it exactly as you heard it: the same intonation, stress, rhythm and speed.
- Shadowing technique. You can find a detailed explanation of this technique in this YouTube video.
- Basically the goal is to speak (repeating the audio) at the same time as you listen, focussing on how you speak (intonation, stress, rhythm) not just what you say.
- You can find an interesting app for Android to help you practise the shadowing technique.
9. Read out loud
The idea is to read any material (book, magazine, technical report etc.) out loud. We recommend one book in particular for this exercise: An Inspector Calls the Graphic Novel.
- This graphic novel is fantastic for sentence stress (the words in a sentence which are emphasised more when speaking) because it shows the words in bold that need to be emphasised in the sentence.
- Also, it is filled with short dialogues, many questions, answers and typical interjections. It is perfect practice for communication!
10. Prepare for specific situations
If you have a specific situation where you will need to speak in English, we recommend that you prepare for that situation. For example, a job interview in English, an exam or a trip somewhere you'll need to speak English.
- Look for specific vocabulary that you will need in this situation.
- Practice with someone, for example, a language exchange partner. Do role-plays or have conversations about the situation/topic.
- You’ll feel more confident if you’ve practiced. Remember, how you feel affects how you speak!
Finally, always remember that gaining fluency in spoken English takes time and effort, but it is something that you can improve! Keep focussing on communicating a clear message and don't worry about your grammar or the mistakes you might be making. We hope that these tips, techniques and resources help you. Good luck!