Nobody wants to feel awkward when having a conversation.
Speaking English well. Being able to communicate with ease. Understanding native speakers.
Sounds really good, doesn’t it?
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, right?
Studying is a skill.
Learning is a skill.
Practicing is a skill.
And they are the most important skills you can have, because they allow you to improve your English conversation skills.
What Does It Mean to Be an Advanced English Speaker?
If becoming an advanced English speaker is not your goal yet, it should be! To understand and to be understood in English is why we all study English, after all.
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
Speaking naturally in a new language, without worrying about the details of the language, is hard to do.
Plus, being able to have conversations is one of the most important English skills you can have. So, it is important to focus on improving your speaking skills early. The more you practice, the quicker you will progress.
The above conversational abilities are what you will need to have in order to call yourself an advanced English speaker and have advanced English conversations. They are not like basic dialogues that you may have with your English teacher in class.
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. You are expected to understand them, be actively involved in the discussion and use rich language to share your ideas and thoughts.
This is far from easy!
So, as you can see, listening skills, vocabulary skills and being aware of different types of conversation all lead to you becoming an advanced English speaker.
But where do you begin?
There are many ways! This post will share four easy steps that you can take to reach your goal of speaking like an English native.
Speak Like a Native: 4 Steps Towards Mastering Advanced English Conversation
1. Before You Speak: Building Up Your Vocabulary
A conversation is a two-way street. People are talking to each other, sharing ideas, asking questions. To do so well, they need to be able to express themselves clearly. It is simply not possible to have a conversation if you do not know the words to say what you want to say.
Knowing how to say something is important! 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 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. Understanding Is Key: Improving Your Listening Skills
With your vocabulary growing, you will notice you know how to say more things. You will almost always know how to say what you want to say.
But what about understanding other people?
This is the other very important part of having a conversation. It is not always easy to understand when people are speaking English. 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!
You are probably thinking that this is not surprising. But it is true! This is the only way to train your ears to pick up and understand what is being said, so you can show off your excellent vocabulary skills.
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 are very easy to find and watch online (free and legally), 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.
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 Australian, Irish, 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. Textbooks Aren’t Always Right: Focusing 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 oral. You need to use formal English for business and academics.
Take a typical interaction in English, whereby one person thanks another. The standard taught response when thanked in English is to follow-up with you’re welcome. However, this is not always the appropriate response, as the lines between formal and informal are sometimes blurred.
Be sure to check out the great breakdown below as well as subscribe to the FluentU English channel to keep up to date with trends in content, language use and to receive insider tips to perfect your English speaking.
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 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, like, upset and giving him the cold shoulder for a few days. (Some words are dropped, the verb “felt” is replaced with a filler word (“like”) and an idiom (“giving 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.
You don’t have to sound like a textbook to be understood. 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. FluentU is the perfect tool for this because it brings native English speech within reach.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
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. We’ve talked about using filler words and writing scripts to help you get started. Another way you can build confidence 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. Reading news and informative articles about the subject you’re interested in is just the beginning.
You can practice your conversational English by reading personal blogs written by regular people, following the social media accounts of people involved in your subject, and looking in the comments sections for how people are responding to the topic. Don’t be afraid to leave your own comment!
You could also 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. Putting It All Together: Practicing with Natives
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. 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 and contribute to the conversation as much as you can to practice your grammar and vocabulary.
Where can you practice? Here are a few ideas:
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 Skype or a similar chat client.
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!
This post is meant as just a starting point on your exciting journey towards becoming an advanced English speaker. It may never be as easy to speak English as your native language, but the effort is worth it. 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!