Advanced English Conversation: How to Say and Understand Anything in English
As a student of English, you will work on developing many skills.
Studying grammar, learning new words and phrases, practicing pronunciation—these are all important English skills.
And they are the most important skills you can have, because they allow you to develop advanced English conversation skills.
In this post, we’ll share five steps to help you speak English at a higher level.
- 5 Steps Towards Mastering Advanced English Conversation
- What Does It Mean to Be an Advanced English Speaker?
- And One More Thing...
5 Steps Towards Mastering Advanced English Conversation
1. Build up your vocabulary.
Try to remember the last conversation you had in English. Were there times when you really wanted to ask or say something, but you did not know the right words? Maybe you forgot what something was called. Maybe you did not know a particular verb or expression.
This is why the first step towards becoming an advanced English speaker is working on your vocabulary! There are several ways to do this.
One way is to identify (find) topics or word groups you have trouble with. Here is what you can do:
1. Make a list of the last 10 conversations you had in English. (Ten is a big number, especially if you only speak English in class, but do your best.) It could be anything: discussing global news with your fellow students, giving directions to a tourist on the street or even having a job interview in English.
2. Imagine 5 more conversations you could have in English, if you knew the right vocabulary. For example, interviewing your favorite celebrity in English, giving a lecture on your area of study or talking about a business proposal. Let your imagination do the work!
3. Now, with these 15 conversations in mind, create different vocabulary groups that could be useful in each of them. For example: global news, politics, science, sales, business, film and pop culture.
4. With these vocabulary groups, make lists of words and phrases that you find useful but have not mastered yet. At this point, reading materials on these topics will help you find unfamiliar vocabulary to work with.
5. Study, study, study!
If the plan above sounds too academic for you, here is another good approach to learning more vocabulary:
1. Listen to advanced English being spoken. Write down the words you do not understand. Your goal is to find unfamiliar words, so it is okay if you don’t fully understand what is being said. Good sources for practicing this are online lectures, online courses on any subject of your interest and especially documentary films.
2. Make a vocabulary list for each lecture, film or tutorial you watch.
3. Study each list!
It is a good idea to work on your vocabulary regularly. Over time, your lists will become more and more advanced!
2. Improve your listening skills.
Understanding others is a very important part of learning a language but is not always easy to understand when people are speaking. Your conversation partner could be speaking too fast or with an unfamiliar accent. You need to be prepared!
So how do you improve your listening skills? By listening to a lot of native English speakers! Here are some ideas on where to get more listening practice:
1. Watch a lot of films and TV shows in English. This may be the most common advice you hear, but English-speaking films and series are very easy to find and watch online, so you can practice as much as you want. This is also a very entertaining way to build up your listening skills.
2. Turn off the subtitles! This is all about understanding with your ears, not your eyes. If you need them at the beginning that’s ok. You can get to turning off the subtitles gradually.
3. Once you are comfortable with watching English movies, it is time for another challenge. You are most likely used to a certain English accent—maybe it is British, maybe it is American. So, find films that are made in other English-speaking countries to learn to understand different accents. Seek out Irish, Australian, Scottish, South African movies and more—there are lots of great ones out there!
4. If you are feeling brave, jump right in! Find local events in your city or town where you can listen to native English speakers talk. You don’t have to participate yet. A lecture or a discussion panel is an ideal choice, because you just have to listen.
Keep listening, and soon you will find that you are following along with ease!
3. Focus on real English.
Here is something you probably already know after honing (improving) your listening skills: Spoken English isn’t always like textbook English, especially in informal conversations.
“Textbook English” is the proper, grammatically-correct use of English that is required in writing and in any formal communication, both written and spoken. You need to use formal English for business and academics.
Informal conversational English is often simpler. It is often okay to skip certain sentence components (including verbs), use filler words and change your intonation to ask questions when you are conversing informally.
Textbook English: Are you coming to the party tonight?
Conversational English: Coming to the party tonight? (The first verb and the pronoun are dropped.)
Textbook English: When my friend refused to help me with my homework, I felt upset and didn’t speak to him for several days.
Conversational English: My friend refused to help me with homework, so I was upset and gave him the cold shoulder for a few days. (Some words are dropped and an idiom (“gave the cold shoulder”) is used.)
That’s right: sometimes you may hear grammatically incorrect spoken English. It is more common among native speakers than you think! Conversational English is often simplified—to communicate information quickly, to show that you are at ease or simply because you are lazy.
As you become more advanced, you will begin to skip verbs and use fillers too. And it is okay to be casual—sometimes! Just know the difference between a formal and an informal conversation. Don’t fall into the trap of always being lazy when you speak English.
Here are a few simple rules to follow when you talk:
- pronounce everything as clearly as you can (enunciate)
- try not to talk too fast, even if you are nervous
- stop worrying about your accent—it is okay to have one!
- use full, grammatically-correct sentences and questions, this is always a good practice
- if you are unsure of the meaning of some words, don’t use them—play it safe and add these words to your vocabulary lists to study later
It’s also really smart to listen to authentic, casual English speech whenever you can. How? Watch a movie in English or perhaps consider investing in a virtual immersion program.
The language learning program FluentU, for example, turns authentic content into English lessons. The videos—such as movie clips, music videos and more—often demonstrate more casual English speech, which allows for some advanced listening practice.
FluentU also has interactive subtitles that enable you to instantly look up new words, and add them to your multimedia flashcard deck.
4. Study topics you’re interested in.
Conversational English is not just about learning the words, it’s about being able to “hold a conversation.” That means you need to keep a conversation going about a certain topic.
Another way you can build confidence in speaking is by building knowledge. Learn more about topics that you’re interested in, and you’ll have more to contribute to (add to) the conversation.
Here are some ways you can do that:
- Read news and informative articles about the subject you’re interested in.
- Read blogs written by regular people, follow the social media accounts of people involved in your subject, and look in the comments sections for how people are responding to the topic. Don’t be afraid to leave your own comment!
- Take an online course in the topic you’re interested in. This not only helps you grow your knowledge of the subject, but you can watch your English level soar.
5. Practice with native speakers.
So now you have great vocabulary, excellent listening skills and a polished understanding of formal and informal English. It is time to put all of your skills to good use and start conversing with native English speakers!
There are many, many ways to practice speaking English with other people. But since your goal is to develop advanced language skills, you should make it challenging for yourself.
Here are some ideas for when practicing with native speakers:
- Discuss topics from your vocabulary lists.
- Stay away from “small talk.”
- Don’t talk about weather, hobbies or any other subjects that are easy for you.
- Ask a lot of questions.
- Contribute to the conversation as much as you can to practice your grammar and vocabulary.
So where can you practice? Here are some suggestions:
1. Online. You may search for free online discussions, since a lot of native speakers hang out (spend time) online to help ESL students. You may also find a paid tutor or instructor to practice spoken English with over Zoom or Skype.
2. With friends. Depending on where you live, you may have friends who are native English speakers! Ask them for help. Agree with them that you will only be speaking English from now on. If they do agree, you will practice English every time you hang out together.
3. By attending events. If you live in a big city, this shouldn’t be a problem—there are many social events that cater (are made for) to connecting English students and native speakers. Just like with other aspects of your learning, try challenging yourself. Go to lectures that are followed by discussions and make an effort to participate. Attend networking events for professionals looking for new jobs or business connections. Go on visitor tours around your city. There are so many possibilities!
What Does It Mean to Be an Advanced English Speaker?
So how do you know if your English is advanced? As an advanced speaker of English, you will be able to:
- use and understand lots of specific vocabulary related to different topics
- use and understand both formal and casual English
- easily follow conversations with native English speakers in a variety of situations outside of your classroom
- switch from your native language to English without a lot of preparation or thinking
To be able to master advanced conversations in English, you will need to be able to:
- have conversations with many different people, with different vocabularies and accents
- have conversations without thinking or worrying about grammar and vocabulary—it will all feel natural
When another person speaks to you in English like they normally would, without changing their speed of talking or their choice of vocabulary to discuss complex topics, it means they see you as an equal—a fellow advanced speaker of English.
The more you learn, the more opportunities will become available to you. The more you learn, the easier it will get. So keep practicing and keep talking!
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.