How to become fluent in English.
The ultimate aim of everyone learning a language is to speak it fluently. Fluency in spoken English is mainly about having the ability to smoothly and confidently form sentences. Only when you know how to use Tenses, Articles, Prepositions and other areas of Grammar correctly will you be able to do this. The sentence structures that follow these grammar rules can sometimes sound slower or a little 'clunky' when used by non-native speakers, and many learners of English rush to speak like native speakers around them so that they can integrate faster. While there really is no substitute for immersion in a language, sometimes conversation can be so contextual and nuanced that you might not be picking up the correct meaning of the words and phrases being used. As a result, you might start using them incorrectly.
Popular Culture is one of the best resources for keeping up to date with the latest expressions and forms of speech, but without understanding the proper context of certain expressions and what they're derived from, we wouldn't advise using them. Here's an example of what might lead you to use an expression incorrectly: A lot of people say, "I'm going to..." to express their intent to do something. This very popular expression has evolved over a long time.
It started as: I am going to
Then it became: I'm going to (with the contraction of I and am)
Then it became: I'm gonna (+ the contraction of going and to)
Now, in some popular songs (mainly by American or British hip-hop artists), it has become: I'ma (or even Ima), as in "I'ma hit that club", for example. This last - and most recent - example is an extreme version of contraction, but if this was the only way you heard people expressing their intent to do something, you might become confused when you start using "I'ma...", and you realise that a verb usually doesn't come after "I am a...". Those opening words usually lead to you describing yourself, not saying what you're going to do.
This is one of the big problems with spoken English. So many words and expressions sound the same but have different meanings. Failing to learn the different meanings and applications might lead to you using the wrong style of speech in the wrong setting. Some people might say "I'm gonna...", when talking to their friends, but it would probably sound better in the workplace if you said, "I'm going to". It certainly wouldn't sound professional if you stood up to deliver a presentation in the boardroom and said, "I'ma show you all what we got". Please don't do that!
You should watch English-language TV and movies and take heed of the context in which the actors are placed. Are they chatting to friends? Is a Lawyer defending his Client? Are Politicians debating an important piece of legislation? Is a high-powered executive directing the Board Meeting? The words and expressions used in these contexts, and countless others, will be different. Ask yourself what they're trying to convey, and why they might choose a different way to say the same thing you have seen in a different form. There are matters of emphasis, emotion, and intent to consider.
Popular Culture is your friend as you learn a language, but we'd recommend checking any new expressions with your English-speaking friends before using them.
RULES ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN
You might have heard this expression before, but when it comes to native English speakers, they break their own rules all the time. It's important to understand that English speakers can only do this because they are immersed in their own language (just as you are in yours). Context is everything in these situations, and even when grammar rules are broken, the brain knows what the speaker intended to say. So, once again, you need the knowledge of the correct form of the sentence before you can understand why the sentence structure has been changed (usually in an informal setting) or words have been contracted or omitted to speed up the conversation. If you don't have that knowledge, you might pick up the habit of using this informal sentence structure, without knowing that it only belongs to certain contexts and situations.
EXPRESSIONS DATABASE and OTHER RESOURCES
You can search our Spoken Vocabulary Database for popular expressions and idioms, and you can contact us if you've heard something we haven't. We'd be happy to help you understand how to use it correctly. If you are still to take exams for English, we recommend that you follow the Grammar rules until you're confident enough with your spoken English that you can easily adapt into fluent, everyday speech. We also have an Advanced Exams database of more difficult and sophisticated language. If your exams are behind you, immerse yourself in the language as much possible. Check out our Comics for stories that will help you identify when and how to use popular English expressions; or use our synonyms tables in our Themed Vocabulary section for lots of help with sentence building.
FLUENCY OR FOLLOWING THE RULES?
We think the answer is both. If you only follow the rules and stick to all the rigorous structures and the vocabulary you learned for your exams, your spoken English won't sound natural (especially because a lot of the vocabulary you were tested on isn't really used in everyday conversation). But if you just throw yourself into everyday interactions without knowing the grammar rules, you'll miss the point of many conversations.
Categories: English learning tips