11 Essential Tips to Improve Your English Communication Skills (For All Levels)

No matter where we are or what language we speak, we sometimes have trouble communicating.

Communication issues don’t always happen because of your English level.

The truth is, you can know how to speak English without knowing how to communicate in English.

What’s the difference?

Read on to see 11 tips to improve your English communication skills and learn how to fix the most basic communication errors!


The 3 Important Rules of Communication

In any language, there are three extremely important points to remember when you’re communicating with someone.

1. Say what you mean. It can be difficult to express (say) some ideas clearly, but if you’re trying to prevent miscommunication, it’s important to say exactly what you mean. Be clear and to the point.

2. Ask questions. Communication is two-way, which means you can’t be the one doing all the talking. To make sure your listener is engaged (interested in what you have to say) and understanding you, ask questions. 

3. Listen. We mean really listen. Hear what your speaking partner has to say and try to understand what they mean.

Following all three of these rules will make you excellent at communicating in English (and probably in your native language as well).

Of course, as an English learner you might have a hard time communicating in English because of the language barrier. Don’t worry—below you’ll find a list of 11 tips you can use if you want to understand (and be understood) better.

1. Keep talking

The problem: You may have trouble speaking fluently if you’re unsure of your grammar or vocabulary. However, stopping a lot when you talk can make it difficult for people to focus on what you’re saying.

The solution: Know your filler phrases!

Filler phrases are phrases (and words) that act like placeholders in a sentence. They fill in silences so that your speech is not interrupted. They don’t really add anything to the conversation, though, so they give you a little time to think of what to say.

Some examples of filler phrases are:

  • Um, uh…
  • You know…
  • Actually…
  • To be honest…
  • I mean…
  • Well…
  • So…
  • Anyway…

You’ll hear these words a lot when you’re talking to native English speakers, so it would be beneficial to practice using them on a daily basis. 

As with any good thing, don’t overuse them! Too many filler phrases are just as bad as too many pauses. To find a good balance, try not to use more than one filler phrase for every couple of sentences you speak. 

Try it yourself: Find a topic you can comfortably talk about for a few minutes (you can use one of the conversation starters here). Record yourself speaking about the topic in English for a few minutes. When you’re done, listen to your recording.

How often do you stop? How often do you use filler phrases? Try recording yourself again speaking about the same topic, but this time watch out for using too many pauses or filler phrases.

2. Find a good speaking rhythm

The problem: If you try to speak too fast, your words don’t come out right. But if you try to slow down, you have trouble focusing.

The solution: You need to work on your speaking rhythm, or the speed and “sound” of your speaking.

Finding your perfect speaking rhythm will really help to improve your fluency. A good speaking pace is comfortable for you and the listener, keeps you focused, and gives you enough time to think through what you want to say.

Try it yourself: Find a short paragraph, or even just a sentence and say it slowly, then again faster, and again. Once you reach a speech that doesn’t feel comfortable (is too fast), slow back down. Repeat this with a few sentences, and soon you’ll find that perfect speed.

Once you find the right speed, you can work on the rhythm, which is the stress and intonation (how high or low a sound is) of your voice when you speak. A video with subtitles can help you practice.

You could even practice saying sentences slowly in front of the mirror or throughout your daily routine. Make it a game and imagine different situations and act them out using possible vocabulary and phrases. Doing this every day will not only increase your fluency, but also your confidence.

3. Make sure you’re understood

The problem: Because of the language barrier, you’re never sure if people really understood what you meant.

The solution: Just ask them. Most of the time, you can make sure someone understood what you said by asking them to repeat what you said.

If you’re worried about sounding rude, you can remind them that you are still learning English, and you want to make sure you expressed yourself correctly. 

Try it yourself: Practice with a speaking partner! Or, the next time you give instructions, directions or information in an English conversation, follow it up with one of these phrases:

  • I want to make sure you got that. Would you mind repeating it?
  • I’m not sure if I said that right. Can you please repeat it?
  • Can you please run that by me, so I know you got it?
  • I’d like to be sure I’m expressing myself clearly. Could you please tell me what I’ve just said, so I know we’re on the same page?

By having the listener repeat what you said, you can make sure you were understood, or clarify anything they didn’t get (understand).

4. Repeat what you’re told

The problem: Sometimes you’re not sure if you understand what others mean, and you don’t know how to check.

The solution: Don’t be afraid to ask people to repeat themselves. Most people will agree that it’s better to repeat themselves than to have misunderstandings. An even more effective way of making sure you understood right is to repeat what you heard.

Whenever you’re getting information and you’re not sure you understand it, just say it back to the speaker in your own words. This will give them a chance to correct whatever you did not understand, or confirm that you heard right.

Try it yourself: You can practice this with a speaking partner as well, or in an actual English conversation: Repeat new information back to the speaker.

You can use these phrases before the information:

  • I want to make sure I got that right, …
  • So let me get this straight, …
  • You mean…
  • If I’m understanding you correctly, …

You can also try this with anything you read or watch. After you read or watch something, take a moment to explain in English what you just learned. This will help you work on your comprehension skills.

5. Ask clarifying questions

The problem: You just don’t understand what you’re being told.

The solution: Sometimes, you might not understand enough information to be able to repeat it, or feel like you only understand something partially. In these cases, you can ask questions that will clarify (clear up) any misunderstandings and help you communicate smoothly.

Try it yourself: The types of questions you ask will vary based on the conversation you’re having. You can still practice asking good questions with a partner by playing games like “20 Questions.”   

To play, your partner thinks of a person, place or thing. You have to figure out what they’re thinking of by asking yes or no questions, like “Is it a living thing?” or “Is the city in Europe?” 

You can also practice this when you read anything online. As you read, ask yourself questions about anything that you don’t understand or any information that’s missing. Asking these questions will help your communication and reading comprehension skills.

Here are some more example phrases you can use to check if you understand it right:

  • Just to make sure I’ve got it right, you mean…
  • Are you saying that… ?
  • When you said… Did you mean… ?
  • I am not quite sure I am following. Did you say…

6. Watch your body language

The problem: You’re saying one thing, but your body is saying something different.

The solution: Your body speaks almost as loudly as you. The way you sit, the way you hold your hands, even which direction you look—all these things can change the meaning of the words you speak. The most important thing is to relax.

Not all body language and gestures mean the same thing in different cultures. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re speaking English:

  • Avoid certain hand gestures. Showing just the middle finger with the rest of the fingers folded down is considered an offensive gesture. In the UK, making a V sign with your index and middle finger is also considered rude (in America, it’s just a sign that means “peace”).
  • Do use your hands to speak, though. Your hands can show so many emotions. Slamming a fist into an open hand shows determination. Slamming an open palm or a fist into a table can show anger. Keeping your hands closed and folded on your chest makes you seem cold and uninterested.
  • Fingers can speak, too. You can count on your fingers or even make an “okay” sign by keeping your last three fingers open, and making an “O” with your index finger and thumb.
  • Crossed legs can mean different things. If you cross your legs toward the person you’re speaking to, this shows you’re listening to them. If you cross your legs away, it can show you’re not interested or are distracted.

Take note of the situation and mood of the speaker when they make certain gestures. Watching others’ body language in person or in movies can help you understand.

Try it yourself: Sit or stand in front of a mirror and speak. Pretend you’re having a conversation with your reflection. What are your hands doing? What does your posture say? Move around, try different things and see how they change the meaning of the words you’re speaking.

7. Use appropriate language

The problem: You know “regular” English, so you’re not sure how to communicate with someone who speaks professional English or uses slang.

The solution: Sometimes it’s appropriate to switch to a more casual or a more formal manner of speaking. Depending on your English learning goal, you might already be learning professional or conversational English. Listen to how your conversation partner is speaking, take notice of your situation and environment, and try to match the type of English.

If you’re only learning regular English, don’t worry: Most of the time, standard English works perfectly well as a communication tool, no matter who you’re speaking to.

Try it yourself: If you’re interested in professional or conversational English, start by reading a bit about them online.

FluentU has lots of blog posts on both topics that you can read, like this article on how to learn professional English, or this post with casual English phrases

8. Hone your language output by writing a blog

The problem: When you try to say something in English, you think about it first in your native language, then translate it. As a result, the translation might sound less natural to a native speaker. 

The solution: Practice writing in English. Take time to collect your thoughts and find the most natural way to express something in English.

Try it yourself: Try writing a blog in English to hone your writing skills. Take a look at the steps below and start blogging!

  • Choose a platform. WordPress is a good option for blogging. You can set up an account, then choose a theme and a domain. Other content management systems like Wix, Ghost and Squarespace are also useful. If you only want to write and don’t want too much technique setup, check out Medium.
  • Choose a topic. You can write about whatever you like, of course, but as the purpose is for you to practice more and more, you should choose a topic that you’re passionate about.
  • Set a schedule and stick to it. Write down your plan for writing—whether it’s daily, twice a week or once every other week. Be realistic, but committed.
  • Write away! Staring at a blank page can be intimidating. To get started, set a timer for one to two minutes. Think of your topic for that day, then start writing without stopping until the timer goes off. Don’t worry about vocabulary, sentence structure or spelling. 

9. Practice with real-life videos

The problem: You can read and write in English, but you struggle to pronounce some words and fear not being understood. You may also find it challenging to understand spoken English.

The solution: Learning the correct standard pronunciation will increase the chance of being understood and understanding others. Use native content to listen to the different accents and pronunciation and try to replicate the sounds you hear. 

Try it yourself: Watch real-life videos and content from English-speaking countries, focus on the different sounds and pause the video to repeat the pronunciation. 

One resource you can use to learn English through authentic content is FluentU. This language learning program offers an array of authentic English videos such as interesting talks and movie trailers.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Click here to check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

  FluentU Ad

Remember that pronunciation is key, but not everything. Pay attention to the flow of your speech in English (i.e. linking, contraction, stress and rhyme).

There are so many simple strategies to learn perfect English pronunciation—pick the ones that suit you the best and try to master the sounds you hear.

10. Immerse yourself in the surrounding culture

The problem: You understand and can communicate in the language, but there are certain cultural references, such as idioms or English variations, that you sometimes struggle to understand.

The solution: Immerse yourself in the culture! Language is a part of culture; it’s also how people express their cultural beliefs, values and norms. Immersing yourself in the culture helps you avoid misunderstandings and improves your communication skills at the same time.

Try it yourself: Below are some ways to immerse yourself deeper into the surrounding culture.

  • Make friends online. What could be a better way to find out about the culture than talking to the people? You can find language partners on exchange sites like italki and Polyglot Club.
  • Watch sitcoms and movies for cultural references. Watching sitcoms helps improve your listening skills and allows you to understand more cultural references. Find your favorite, get hooked, practice your English and learn about the culture all at the same time!
  • Read books or news articles from your country of interest. Reading books or news articles gives you more details of the political scene, values and norms of the country. It might help you avoid saying something insensitive or politically incorrect. Reading can also expand your vocabulary, teach you new idioms and phrases and enable you to express your opinions and thoughts better.
  • Plan a visit. Visiting the country you’re choosing to study is a chance to see and feel the culture—the food, the drinks, the shops, etc. You can practice speaking with native speakers, test out your accent and see how well people understand you. 

11. Practice empathy

The problem: You understand the words someone is saying, but you don’t understand why they’re saying them, or maybe even disagree with them.

The solution: Imagine that you hate the cold. You mention this in conversation to someone and they exclaim that they love cold weather. You know that you heard the words right, but it just doesn’t make sense to you. What you need here is empathy.

Empathy is the ability to understand what someone else feels, and it’s an important part of communication in any language. Showing empathy is important for listening well—it can help you understand the difference between what someone is saying and what they really mean.

You might not always agree with people, but you can still try to understand their point of view. To practice empathy, ask yourself what your speaking partner is feeling and thinking. Look at their body language and try to understand what their words mean to them.

Try it yourself: Role play can help you learn how someone else might feel. You can do this alone or with other people. First, create a list of characters and a list of questions. You can use a character creation tool like this one, or make one up on your own. Give the characters personality traits that you don’t have. (For example, if you’re shy, make a character who’s confident and outgoing.)

Now, choose a character and answer a few questions from your list, from their point of view. Pretend you’re the character and answer as you think the character would answer. This exercise will help you see the world through other people’s eyes.

How Do People Communicate Clearly in English?

Even native English speakers have trouble communicating sometimes. Problems in communication happen when the connection is lost between a speaker and a listener. Somewhere along the way, the information that’s being transferred is lost or mixed up.

Here are some ways that communication problems can happen:

  • The speaker feels anxiety and struggles to express him/herself clearly enough. The sentence structure is different, your vocabulary is limited and there’s so much slang to learn! Remember that people are often understanding when they realize someone is still learning the language—most of the time, they’re more than happy to slow down or clarify what was said. Every challenging conversation brings you one step closer to fluency!
  • The speaker uses language that the listener doesn’t understand. Especially when using slang or idioms, it’s important for speakers to take the listener’s language level and the phrases they use into account. As a listener, it’s a good idea to study some common idioms so you’ll be able to understand those used most often in native conversations.
  • The speaker and listener struggle to understand cultural differences in communication. In some cultures, conversations are direct, loud, fast and overlapping, so it’s fine to ask someone to repeat themselves. However, people from other cultures may view things differently. When you talk to someone from another culture, be patient and take note of signals such as body language and eye contact.
  • The listener does not understand the speaker. As an English learner, you may have an accent that’s influenced by your mother tongue, your schooling or the materials you watch. If people sometimes have difficulty understanding you, there’s no simple way to solve this problem, but reviewing native English content can help you identify the sounds and practice your pronunciation. There are many English accents from around the world, so this can even happen in conversations between native speakers!
  • The listener is not paying enough attention to the speaker. Even if you speak perfect English, a listener might stop paying attention, get distracted by background noise, or even run into technical issues, if the conversation is on the phone or online. You can’t force someone to listen to you carefully, but you can ask questions or repeat the statement in a different way to check that you’re being understood.


Knowing how to communicate properly is critical in any language. Follow these tips to improve your communication skills in English and make sure everything you say is crystal clear!

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:


If you want to watch it, the FluentU app has probably got it.

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.


FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.

For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:


FluentU lets you tap to look up any word.

Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.


FluentU helps you learn fast with useful questions and multiple examples. Learn more.

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.

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