How to Speak English Like a Native Speaker: 5 Practical Tips
Wouldn’t it be great to be a language chameleon (animal with the ability to change colors)?
If only we could just change our accents, vocabulary and grammar to sound exactly like native English speakers.
Fortunately, there are practical steps you can take to speak English like a native speaker.
With these tips, plus patience and practice, you’ll be on your way to becoming a language chameleon in no time.
- Why Learn to Speak English Like a Native Speaker?
- 5 Tricks to Help You Speak English Like a Native
- And One More Thing...
Why Learn to Speak English Like a Native Speaker?
The first thing you should know when learning how to speak English like a native speaker is that it takes practice.
In fact, language students put years and years into perfecting their speaking skills so they can talk like a native speaker, or at least take their English to the advanced level.
That’s because being able to speak English the way natives do has a number of benefits.
- You’ll communicate better. The more you speak like a native speaker, the easier it is for native speakers to understand you. The better they understand you, the easier it is to get by in an English-speaking country.
- You’ll have more confidence. Being able to communicate in English while avoiding common mistakes can really boost (increase) your confidence. Not only do you know that you have a high mastery of your language skills, but you also know that your achievement wouldn’t have been possible without a lot of hard work on your part. And knowing that you’re able to do difficult things is always a confidence booster.
- You’ll become more employable. If you can speak English like a native speaker, you can open up a whole new world of professional opportunities. You can work as a translator, travel guide, writer, etc. You can also stand out among your colleagues (people you work with) who don’t speak English or speak English with a non-native accent. You’ll be able to ask for a raise (increase in pay) from your boss because your English skills are a cut above the rest (better than everything or everyone else).
5 Tricks to Help You Speak English Like a Native
If you want to learn how to speak English like a native speaker, here’s what you can do.
1. Familiarize Yourself With Different English Accents
Native English speech doesn’t sound the same across the globe. Someone from the U.S. would sound very different from someone who was born and raised in Australia.
Even within English-speaking countries, accents differ. In the U.S., for example, someone from New York would have a different accent from someone who grew up in Texas. In the United Kingdom, the King’s English (the standard form of English in that country) is different from Scottish, Welsh and Irish.
The good news is you don’t have to master all of these accents. The English you’re studying right now will probably be understandable to most native speakers—though there will be differences in pronunciation and the like.
That said, if you want to focus on a particular dialect of English, it would help to have concrete (specific) goals. Do you want to travel to a certain place or work in a certain country? Answering these questions will help you focus your studies.
For example, if you want to go to New York and are learning English through TV shows, pick “Friends” (which is set in New York’s Manhattan borough or a town with its own government) instead of “Twin Peaks” (which is based on a place that doesn’t actually exist).
You can also go to YouTube and search for videos of people trying to do different English accents. To start with, here are a couple of videos: one on different British accents and the other on different U.S. accents.
2. Imitate Native Pronunciation
Now that you have some idea of what different English accents sound like, how do you go about actually learning native pronunciation?
You can start by watching and imitating authentic English videos. These will expose you to real English pronunciation and speech. They also allow you to study the speakers’ mouth and lip movements so you can imitate them.
After someone speaks, pause the video and repeat back what they said. Turning the subtitles on can help you keep track of the words.
You can make the process more entertaining by using videos.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
You can also use a technique known as “shadowing” to follow along with subtitles videos and help you improve your pronunciation. This is when you try to speak along in time with the video, matching its speed and tone.
The subtitles on FluentU’s videos make it easier to keep up with what the speakers are saying. You can also point your cursor over a word in the subtitles to see its definition.
Interactive transcripts, flashcards, personalized quizzes and other features allow FluentU to support your learning as you practice natural English speech.
When you practice, watch how your mouth and lips move. Take note of any particular words that give you a hard time. Repeat the difficult words until your mouth’s movements feel natural.
There are also tutorial videos (like BBC Pronunciation and Rachel’s English) as well as software (like Tell Me More), which show you the English lip and tongue positions for every letter of the alphabet and all their combinations.
I know learning them is tedious (repetitive and tiring), but it’ll help you pronounce English words correctly, especially if they have sounds that don’t exist in your native tongue.
So learn them and practice in front of your mirror. Do it again and again until it becomes muscle memory (something you can do naturally without thinking). You can even try recording yourself to check your progress.
3. Learn the Flow of English
Although pronunciation is important, it’s not everything. You also need to learn the way English flows.
So what does that mean, exactly?
That’s where “connected speech” comes in. Connected speech refers to the way the end of one word and the beginning of the next word interact in English.
Specifically, a native speaker can:
- Join two sounds. When a word ends in a consonant sound, and the following word begins with the same consonant sound, both are pronounced as one syllable.
Example: I’d decide it later.
- Link two sounds. If the first word ends with a consonant and the second word begins with a vowel, a native speaker would connect the consonant with the vowel as though they’re one word.
Example: I’d like a fried egg.
- Get rid of a sound. When the sounds “t” or “d” occur between two consonant sounds, they’ll often disappear completely from the pronunciation.
Example: See you next week!
- Use contractions. Contractions are combinations of two words marked by an apostrophe (‘). Some examples of contractions are I’m (I + am), I’ll (I + will), don’t (do + not), I’ve (I + have) and I’d (I + would).
- Use stress and rhythm. Native English speakers usually raise their voices and make a longer sound for the word or syllable that needs the most attention—in other words, they “stress” it. Rhythm, on the other hand, is the musical feature of English—the up and down of the pitch each word in a sentence takes.
Armed with this knowledge, how do you learn the flow of English?
The best way is, again, to mimic native speakers. If you live in an English-speaking country, you’re probably doing this subconsciously (without your knowing) already. After all, humans tend to mimic others to build rapport (personal connections).
If you don’t live in an English-speaking country, don’t worry. You can also find a famous speech, a TED talk or a song. Note how the speaker or singer stresses different words in a sentence, which gives them their distinct (different or unique) rhythm.
4. Use Slang When You Speak English
“Slang” refers to informal (and sometimes vulgar or offensive) words and phrases.
Like the English language itself, slang differs depending on where it’s used. To see how different it can be, check out this hilarious (funny) “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” interview with the actor Hugh Laurie.
But there are some examples of slang that a wide range of English speakers use. For instance:
- Wanna. “Wanna” is short for “want to.”
- Hang out. “Hang out” means “to spend time together.” In an informal setting, a native speaker would say “Do you wanna hang out?” instead of “Do you want to spend some time together?”
- Had a blast. If a native speaker had fun hanging out with you, they’ll probably say “We had a blast yesterday.”
- Drove me up the wall. If, on the other hand, a native speaker is annoyed or irritated, they will say that the thing or person that irritated them “drove them up the wall.”
By mastering this type of slang, you’ll instantly sound more fluent and like a native speaker.
To hear more slang, watch current TV shows or search for English vlogs (video blogs) on YouTube. Make sure you note not only what they mean, but also what places they’re used in and in what context. (Hint: you don’t use slang in a meeting with your boss or anyone else you respect.)
You can also search for words that sound like slang on Urban Dictionary or ask a native speaker you trust to make sure you’re using them correctly.
5. Learn English Idioms
English idioms are phrases that have meanings you can’t immediately know just from looking at the words themselves.
Here are a few common examples:
- Can’t see the forest for the trees. This phrase has nothing to do with forests, trees or any sort of plants. Instead, it means you’re so involved in the details that you can’t see the bigger picture.
- Raining cats and dogs. If it actually rained cats and dogs anywhere, it would probably make the news. In all seriousness, this phrase simply means “raining hard.”
- A piece of cake. This one means something just as sweet—when you say something is “a piece of cake,” you’re saying it’s very easy.
- Cut to the chase. This has no connection to cutting or chasing. If someone tells you to “cut to the chase,” it means you should get to the point or say what you really want to say.
- Hit the books. As a book lover, I’d be very angry if someone literally hit my books. Fortunately, this phrase actually means “to study”—which is what you’re doing with the English language right now!
For more idioms, go to this post. And if you prefer learning English through songs, check out this musical guide to English idioms.
It’s also helpful to keep a diary of idioms you learn and their (possible) equivalents in your language. That way, you can easily remember them or look them up in your diary if you forget them.
Finally, don’t be afraid to use idioms! You might not “get” them the first time around, but a native English tutor can help you out.
It’s not easy to learn how to speak English like a native speaker.
Fortunately, you can start today by imitating native speakers, practicing pronunciation, stress and rhythm and using slang and idioms.
The more you practice, the more naturally native English speech will come to you over time.
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.