Imagine if an American came up to you and said, “Hey there, how’s it going?”
You can think back to what you learned about English vocabulary and grammar, and respond “I am doing fine, thank you.” Of course, this is not incorrect, but it doesn’t sound quite right.
That’s because the American is speaking conversational English.
To have a conversation with your new American friend, you’ll need to learn conversational American English.
Conversational English is casual and natural, and uses many common expressions and phrases. By learning these phrases, you can sound more natural when you speak, too—just like a native American English speaker.
You know the grammar. You know the vocabulary. Now it’s time to learn some conversational American English!
Forget Grammar: How to Have an English Conversation
What if we told you to stop worrying about grammar? Of course you still need to learn grammar so that you know the rules, but when you’re speaking conversational English, sometimes it’s better to be understood than to be correct.
Think about it: When you speak your native language, how often do you stop to think about the grammar? You probably don’t. In fact, there are probably times when you knowingly use incorrect grammar, because that’s how it’s actually used in conversations.
For this reason, fluency is even more important than grammar in conversational English. Fluency is the ability to speak without having to pause too often. You can improve your fluency by listening to and reading a lot of English conversations, by learning phrases instead of single words, and by practicing as often as you can.
Just How Different Is American English?
Aside from the pronunciation, American English does use many phrases, words and even sentence types that you might not hear in other English-speaking countries. Something called a “loo” in the UK is called a “bathroom” or “restroom” in American English. In Australian English you might say something is “bonza,” but in American English it would be “awesome.”
Even though these differences are small, they’re important for sounding really natural in a conversation. The best way to learn American conversational English is by looking at resources that have specifically American English.
10 Awesome Books, Websites and Apps for Mastering Conversational American English
McGraw Hill is a well-known textbook publisher, so you can expect good things from their book “Conversational American English.” The book is organized into themes and contains more than 3,000 common phrases and expressions used in almost any situation.
The themes in this book include conversational ways to say hello and goodbye, agree or disagree, and even deal with polite and impolite people. Each situation is followed by a list of phrases you might say in that situation. There is no explanation with the phrases though, so it’s probably not the best for a beginner.
2. “Speak English Like an American” and “Speak English Around Town” by Amy Gillet
Like McGraw Hill’s book, Amy Gillet’s conversational American English books are full of many expressions for everyday experiences in both casual and professional settings.
Gillet’s books don’t just list the expressions, though. Each lesson has a conversation where you can see the phrases in action, followed by a list of the expressions, their definitions, and a few more examples. You can test your understanding of the expressions by doing the short worksheet at the end of each chapter.
3. “Looking for Alaska” by John Green
Educational books are a great resource for learning new phrases and expressions, but to really read about Americans having conversations, try reading a Young Adult (YA) novel. A novel is a fictional book, and a YA novel is specifically written for teenagers around the age of high school.
Many YA novels have realistic conversations and dialogues. Since the books are meant for a younger audience, they try to sound like younger people. And teenagers use a lot of expressions and slang! A few other Young Adult books that have natural sounding conversations like in this book are Rick Riordan’s “The Lightning Thief” and Ann Brashare’s “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.”
For the more visual learners, you can find some great American English video content on FluentU. FluentU is a language immersion platform with real-world videos—like news, cartoons, music videos, vlogs and inspiring talks. You can watch many different kinds of people having real conversations, plus learn some pronunciation and vocabulary tips.
Every word comes with an image, in-context definition, audio and example sentences—so you’re never lost. With FluentU’s unique Lean Mode, each video is turned into a personalized learning lesson. Try it free today with FluentU’s 15-day trial here.
This website is like a podcast aimed at English learners. Here, you can find people having real conversations about different topics and themes. The speakers have a clear pronunciation and speak naturally, so you can pick up a lot of expressions about each topic. Each lesson also has some great tips and tricks for learning English.
Not all the content on Real English Conversations is free, but you can listen to a number of sample topics to see if this is the right website for you.
The United States Department of State has an excellent website with resources for students and teachers of English as a second language. There are a few American English lessons and resources, like the one linked to above, and this lesson, which uses pictures to teach conversational English.
It’s a good idea to look around the website—you can find some great lessons here!
Although this website is British, the sayings listed on this page are American. Clicking on any of the sayings takes you to a page that explains the meaning of the expression, as well as where it originally came from.
The site isn’t meant for English learners, so some of the language might be tough to understand (some of the definitions need definitions!). If you’re a more advanced learner, or are interested in where words and phrases come from, give it a try.
Make sure you’re saying things correctly with this app, which gives you clear instructions to pronounce American English sounds and words correctly.
It uses illustrations to show you the correct mouth movements for each sound. Then, you can practice saying words in an American English accent with the app’s speech recognition tool. The app will be able to tell you whether you pronounced the word correctly!
This is a great tool if you want to hear how American pronunciations are different from British pronunciations. You can practice with either accent and easily switch between them.
Simply tap on a common English vowel or consonant sound, and the app will play a native pronunciation. You can hear it alone or in an example word.
You can also record your own pronunciations or try the practice activities and quizzes.
You can try these features with the free version, but the premium version unlocks all the features.
10. Voice of America
Voice of America is a news podcast with a huge number of topics for you to choose from—so you’re sure to find something you’re actually interested in. Although this is not specifically a learning app, it’s a good way to hear American conversations about whatever topic you choose.
The Voice of America app lets you listen in over 30 different languages, so you can listen to a news segment in English and then your native language to make sure you understood it correctly.
With these resources, you’re not just learning English—you’re learning to speak “American”! Now you’ll know exactly how to answer the next time someone asks you, “How’s it going?”
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