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How to Make Your English Sound More Natural

Check out this post originally published on the Listen & Learn blog!

Learning English is incredibly difficult, which is something non-native speakers of English don’t always understand. The English language is insane, with rules that almost always have exceptions, homophones, homonyms, gerunds, and a ton of other things that make the language incredibly tricky to speak with native proficiency.
 
So what’s an English language learner to do? Throw in the towel and give up now? No! Of course not!
 
We know how difficult it can be to make yourself sound natural in English, and we know that being able to express yourself in the easiest and most comfortable way can be really difficult. We’ve come up with some tips to help you speak and write English more naturally, improving your confidence with the language and ultimately improving your fluency.

Know your audience!

All the world’s a stage, and we are merely players, right? Well, sort of.
 
This doesn’t mean focusing on how loud you’re speaking or on the lighting in the room as you’re speaking. Rather it means that you need to understand if you’re speaking in a formal setting, or an informal one. Most languages have whole separate verb conjugations and subjects to easily communicate the formality and respect owed in different situations, but English does not.
 
When speaking with someone, or especially when writing to someone you should always keep these questions in mind:

  • What is our relationship?
  • Are they friends, co-workers, professors, or complete strangers?
  • What am I discussing?
  • Is it personal and private or something casual and common?

If the relationship is more formal – like a professor, or an employer – then you should choose more formal language. Stay away from slang and make sure you’ve properly addressed the recipient if you’re writing to them. If you don’t know someone very well, or at all, it’s a better idea to start formal and gradually work towards more casual conversations. Keep the slang for friends and more casual topics and discussions for people you’re closer with. When it doubt, follow the tone the other person, or other people present to you.

Chop away at it.

Don’t be afraid to use contractions when speaking or when writing in English as it sounds more fluent and more casual. If you listen to native speakers (or read their emails, newspapers, and literature) then you’ll notice contractions all over the place! Just scanning through this paragraph, you’d be able to find at least 3 before this sentence finishes. When you use contractions, make sure you’re using the correct ones; doesn’t versus don’t, can’t versus couldn’t, and never, ever use willn’t.
 
Carrying on with the idea of chopping – be careful of run-on sentences in your writing. Don’t try to fit too much into one sentence, as it just looks disorganised and cluttered. This doesn’t mean you have to keep your writing direct, blunt, and to the point (unless your audience needs that), but it does mean you should be wary of how many conjunctions are within your sentence and how many ideas you are linking together within that sentence.

Phrasal verbs, collocations, and idioms – oh my!

Want to sound more natural when you’re speaking English? Make sure your collocations are up to snuff and your idioms are on point when you’re speaking or writing!
 
Idioms are phrases that mean something completely different and indiscernible from what they say. Give it a shot (an idiom meaning “try something”) when you’re speaking with some English-speaking friends, for example. Collocations are words that naturally go together – they can be noun combinations, adjective-noun combinations, verb-phrase combinations, or any other countless combination.
 
Think of the phrase: “Make a difference”. You would never use the verb “do” or “have” to mean changing someone’s life for the better. Collocations connect with phrasal verbs as well. You would ask someone out on a date but you wouldn’t ever ask someone in on a date… well, unless the date had gone really well… but that’s a different meaning entirely.
 
When you make mistakes with phrasal verbs, collocations and idioms it sounds very strange and very wrong to a native speaker ear. If you can nail these, you’ll sound more natural and more like a native speaker in a heartbeat!
 
Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll find your English speaking and writing being mistaken for a native English speaker’s in no time!

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