Five Helpful Tips to Increase Fluency

Kristen M. Gagné — Founder/Owner, Webtawks

I have taught the English language for the last nine years in the U.S. and abroad. I specialize in teaching English to international professionals.
The question these professionals ask me the most:
How can I speak better?

Translation:

How can I increase my fluency?

There isn’t one method. We all learn differently, but in my experience, and as a second language learner myself (French), the following five tips have been very helpful.
Spoiler Alert: Learning grammar rules isn’t one of them.
1. Embrace your mistakes: Just relax. Take a deep breath. Learning a language takes practice. You will mispronounce words, use the wrong vocabulary and incorrect grammar— regularly — especially in the beginning. There is no way to avoid it. Think about what it takes to learn to play an instrument. You need to practice and practice a lot! Often, second language learners will not speak out of fear of sounding “stupid” in front of their English-speaking colleagues, but without trying—because you want to avoid mistakes—you aren’t practicing. Try to get over this hurdle of fear. It is holding you back from the fluency you want.
2.
Speak English as much as possible: When you are at the grocery store, the bank, at a restaurant, anywhere — ask questions, talk to people, say hello (keeping in mind, safety first!). While I was learning French, I would talk to anyone I could and I learned so much from those experiences. It’s a great way to practice authentic language. Another way to practice—sing! Singing along to songs you like in English is a superb method for learning vocabulary, word stress and pronunciation. I understand you may not sound like Pavarotti. It’s okay. Sing anyway.
3.
Listen to English as much as possible: Listen to the radio, watch television, watch movies and check out some YouTube videos. Even better—go to a coffee shop, book store, or take public transportation and see if you can follow along listening, for a few minutes (eavesdropping is considered impolite, but this is education!) to a simple, day-to-day conversation. While learning French, I did this and it was useful to hear authentic language, slang speech, and pronunciation. I used what I heard and tried to reproduce the pronunciation and intonation in future conversations.
4.
Become involved in group activities: What do you like to do or learn for fun? Golfing? Hiking? Biking? Cooking? Running? Art? Whatever it is, make the most of the free time you have by joining a club or group. In the U.S., there are countless groups and clubs for adults to join and some at low to no cost. Search online for opportunities in the city or town you are living in and start meeting English-speaking people. As you become involved in activities you enjoy, you’re using the language and making friends. Find time for it!
5.
Ask when you don’t understand: English is your second language (or third, fourth or fifth!). If you aren’t sure about what someone needs or wants from you — ask them to clarify; ask them to speak slower; or ask them to say it differently. Often, I hear from second language learners that they are embarrassed to ask questions, or that by asking they are seen as incompetent. The desire to learn needs to outweigh your fear or embarrassment. You won’t improve just because you want to—take some chances, speak and ask those questions!
What other language learning tips do you find helpful?
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