The Secret to Fast English Fluency and Speaking Confidence
The most important idea to understand about becoming a fluent English speaker – the idea that has helped countless learners around the world finally become successful, confident speakers – is that there are really two different English languages.
- One is the formal English used for writing.
- The other is the conversational, spoken language.
Native speakers learn both of these, so they can speak English fluently and confidently in both formal and informal situations.
Most non-native English students only learn formal English in school, so they often struggle to understand conversational English, and can sound unnatural when they speak.
If you want to sound native and speak naturally, you must learn like native speakers and build a vocabulary of spoken, conversational English.
How to Learn Conversational Words and Expressions
There are many varieties of conversational English, but by focusing on the three most essential kinds covered in this guide – and following the specific learning instructions for each that I provide – you’ll learn more effectively, and start sounding more native much faster…
1. Phrasal Verbs to speak English fluently
Phrasal verbs are a huge part of conversational English. They’re groups of two or more words, usually a verb and a preposition, that express a more complicated verb in a simple way.
They can be quite difficult for learners because they can have meanings which aren’t obvious – like idioms and slang – and each phrasal verb can have multiple meanings.
Here are a few examples you can begin using in your conversations today:
to get off – to dismount – He got off the horse/bicycle/motorcycle.
to make out – to kiss passionately – The newlyweds made out for two straight hours.
to tune out – to ignore – The boy tunes out his mom when she tells him to do his homework.
There are thousands of phrasal verbs, but they can all be mastered quickly if you use three simple steps…
How to Learn and Remember Phrasal Verbs
First, you must learn them visually, ideally through videos or physical demonstrations.
All verbs should be learned visually, but visual learning is especially important with phrasal verbs because you’re combining verbs with other words to form specific visual ideas.
When you see phrasal verbs happening in visual examples, you understand them automatically in English (no translation needed!), and remember them easily.
Second, you need to master the many meanings of “core” verbs. As an example, the core verb in the phrasal verb“run off” is “run.”
In English lessons, you probably learned about the kind of running you do with your legs. If you don’t “go deeper” to learn the other meanings of run – which can be checked easily with an online English-English dictionary – you won’t know that run can also describe flowing water, the movement of time, the operation of a business and much more.
The more “core” meanings of a verb you know, the more you’ll be able to understand the phrasal verbs they appear in.
Finally, you must learn phrasal verbs in order of simple to complex.
Only after you master the simple phrasal verbs built from a core verb should you try to learn the more complex ones.
These steps are all used to help you master hundreds of phrasal verbs in our Visual Guide to Phrasal Verbs video course, but I’ll give you a brief example of how they work right here:
We’ll begin by examining a group of related phrasal verbs. Notice how they all share the same core verb: turn.
turn on – to activate
turn off – to deactivate
turn up – to increase
turn down – to decrease
The basic meaning of turn is to spin or rotate, but it can also mean change, pass and much more. We’ll just focus on the idea of rotation for the following examples, though:
Imagine an old TV or radio. (Really see the image in your mind so you’re not translating anything from your native language into English using words alone). You gave power to many older electronics by turning their channel dials rather than pushing power buttons.
These expressions are still with us today even though actions have changed. This is why we turn on a TV – and turn it off – rather than “pressing” a TV on or off.
If you think about“hanging up” a phone to end a call – which no one physically does anymore – this expression comes from old phones that used to be hung on walls. When you finished talking, you would hang the phone’s receiver back up on the wall.
Returning to our old TV or radio, the volume controls were also small dials or knobs you’d turn. We use digital sliders and buttons on most smartphones and touch screens nowadays, but older electronics would have dials that could be turned up or turned down to raise or lower the volume. And these expressions are still with us today.
Like slang and idioms, phrasal verbs all have some practical origin, even if it’s a bit hard to see at first. Study the meanings of core verbs, then learn phrasal verbs visually, and in simple steps, and you’ll create an enormous vocabulary of them very quickly!
2. Slang and Idioms to speak English fluently
Slang is the term for informal, spoken English, often common words and phrases with meanings quite different from what you’d see in a dictionary.
Here are a few examples:
beat – really tired – I’ve been working all day so I’m beat.
cut – well-muscled – That guy spent the summer at the gym getting cut.
laid back – relaxed – My boss never yells at anyone because he’s really laid back.
Idioms are part of this group as well because they also have meanings that aren’t obvious from the words forming them.
Here are a few examples:
at the drop of a hat – instantly – Don’t expect me to appear at the drop of a hat when you call me.
for a song – very inexpensive – I got this car for a song because it was 10 years old.
piece of cake – easy – This job is a piece of cake. All I do is push a button.
Slang and idioms are like a special code. Knowing this code identifies you as a member of the group in which they’re used. And that’s why they are so important to learn.
If you don’t know the code words and expressions native speakers use, you’ll always be on the outside of conversations, wondering what people are talking about.
How to Learn and Remember Slang and Idioms
The secret to speak English fluently is to understand and remember slang and idioms. Slang and idioms help creating associations between their words and their meanings. Slang words and idioms usually have some practical origin that can be:
discovered – or created – with a bit of imagination. Let’s start building your native vocabulary right now with a few examples and their associations:
slammer – prison – I was in the slammer for 10 years.
You could imagine yourself sitting in a prison cell as the iron bars slam loudly and lock you in. You’ve probably heard this sound in movies before.
dinosaur – an old person – My grandpa, that dinosaur over there, was born 100 years ago.
Just think of dinosaurs, animals that lived a very long time ago, to associate them with old people.
all ears – to listen closely – I was all ears, listening to the ghost story very closely.
Visualize your body being nothing but thousands of ears, all listening closely to something very important or interesting.
cut a rug – to dance – My wife and I cut a rug on Saturday.
Imagine dancing all night long on a rug, moving so much that you actually cut holes in the rug with your feet.
Try mastering at least one new slang word or idiomatic expression every day using associations. Just remember that it’s better to learn one slang word or idiom to the point where you can use it automatically than to study five briefly and forget them all.
3. Expressions, Proverbs and Sayings
This category of vocabulary is the longest, but the easiest to remember as each saying or expression is really just a very short story you can master – and use confidently in conversations – easily with a simple trick.
How to Learn and Remember Expressions, Proverbs and Sayings
Begin by visualizing the story behind an expression, and find a way to connect it with your own life.
Then, shorten the expression to use it in conversations the same way native speakers do – by expressing the idea of the story without saying the whole thing.
Here are three expressions you can begin using in your conversations today:
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
The idea here is to never quit, at least within reason.
I used to be a horrible writer. I spelled things badly all the time and got really bad grades in school. But I persisted, trying and trying again, until I finally learned how to write well. Now, I give this same advice to others. If at first you don’t succeed…
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
This means that it’s better to have a certainty – like a bird, or other prize you’re already holding – than to chase a less certain but potentially better prize.
I remember playing a game many years ago at a carnival where you could keep $5, or risk it to get $20. I would always risk the $5 and then go home with nothing. A bird in the hand…
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
This means that you choose how you see life. Something may look bad, but you have the opportunity to see it in a positive way.
I broke my leg as a child, but instead of getting angry about it, I used the time to learn how to draw. When life gives you lemons…
Think you can master at least one of each kind of these words or expressions each day? If you understand how to ”think and shrink” like a native English speaker, you most certainly can!
Keep practicing, you will soon speak English fluently with great confidence.