10 Ways to Speak More Naturally in English

Published on
March 2, 2022
|
Updated on
March 3, 2022
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📖
8
min read
This article may contain affiliate links
Written by
Emile Dodds

Every English learner wants to speak English more naturally. Here are our top ten tips to sounding more natural in English, and the practical methods you can start using today.

10 Ways to Speak More Naturally in English
Table of contents

Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, is well-known for his excellent command of English.

He gives speeches in English, he talks to other world leaders in English and he gives interviews to the media in English. He looks confident and he speaks naturally.

While we can debate his skills as a politician, it’s undeniable that he is a great role model for English learners who wish to have the same confidence and ability in their English.

So let’s look at some ways that you can speak more naturally, just like Emmanuel Macron!

What does it mean to speak “naturally”?

Speaking naturally means having skills in three areas:

  • Grammatical accuracy
  • Vocal skills
  • Vocabulary

In other words, if you can speak with accurate grammar, good pronunciation and a wide range of vocabulary, you will have the ability to speak naturally.

In technical terms, a C2-level speaker of English (the most advanced level) “can express themselves spontaneously, very fluently and precisely”.

1 The role of grammar in natural speech

Is it necessary to master grammar? It depends on your language goals.

It is possible to “get by” in English with broken grammar, but our goal here is to speak naturally.

You do not need to have 100% perfect grammar in order to speak naturally, but an advanced-level speaker “maintains consistent grammatical control of complex language”.

At some point in your learning journey, bad grammar will hold you back and prevent you from progressing to advanced level.

So, the first way to speak more accurately is to improve your grammar.

As an independent learner, you can do this through a mix of self-study and curiosity. When you read (or listen), take a mental note of the grammar that you see.

For example, let’s say you read this text:

George had had no issues with the Mayor in the past, but this time was different.

You might ask yourself, “Had had?* What verb tense is that? What does it mean?” And, of course, you can use Internet resources to find out.

Curiosity and smart use of the Internet are the best ways to improve your grammar.

*It is an example of the past perfect tense

2 Vocal skills: pronunciation

The first and most basic vocal skill is pronunciation. Pronunciation refers to getting the individual sounds of English correct.

For example, many English learners struggle with the ‘th’ sounds. In fact, many learners do not even realise that there are two ‘th’ sounds in English!

If you feel that you have pronunciation problems in English, I suggest that you start with exercises on minimal pairs. These are sounds that are similar, but different, such as sheep and ship.

Listen to minimal pairs and record yourself pronouncing the difference. Use your recording to correct yourself.

Remember that you probably get most English pronunciation correct already. Identify and focus on your problem areas so as not to waste time.

3 Vocal skills: accent

Is it important to speak with a British, American or other ‘native’ accent?

The short answer is ‘no’.

Instead of trying to copy an American or British accent, I suggest you spend your time improving your other vocal skills.

It is absolutely possible to speak natural English with a French accent, like Emmanuel Macron, or a Chinese, Spanish or Russian accent. 

In fact, it is much better to speak correctly and fluently with a foreign accent than to make grammar and vocabulary mistakes but with perfect pronunciation.

However, note that your mother tongue does have an influence on your pronunciation. For example, if your mother tongue has no ‘v’ sound, this is likely to be a pronunciation issue for you.

4 Vocal skills: rhythm and stress

English is a stress-timed language, which means that rhythm and stress are important.

For example, let’s examine the words desert and dessert.

The word desert is stressed on the first syllable. This means that the first part of the word is spoken slightly louder and longer:

Correct: DESert
Incorrect: desERT

On the other hand, the word dessert is stressed on the second syllable:

Correct: dessERT
Incorrect: DESSert

Test yourself with this sentence, and record yourself to check:

George ate his dessert in the desert.

We also speak in chunks (pieces) of text, which gives English speech the correct rhythm. Try saying these two sentences, pausing at the dots. Record yourself, if possible.

The rain ▪ in Spain ▪ falls mainly ▪ on the plain.
The ▪ rain in ▪ Spain falls ▪ mainly on the ▪ plain.

You should find that the first sentence sounds more natural. Why? Because we pause after a chunk of ‘meaning’. The rain has a meaning, but The does not have a meaning. In Spain has a meaning, but rain in does not have a meaning.

Perhaps this is something you have never thought about or studied before. If you don’t know about this, I’d recommend reading more about word stress, sentence stress and chunking.

5 Vocal skills: fluency

To be fluent is to be able to speak a language without stopping and searching for what you want to say next. It is the ability to be able to speak ‘smoothly’ and naturally.

The most basic way to improve fluency is, of course, to practise, practise, practise.

But what if you don’t have someone to practise with? In that case, I have two tips for you:

  1. You can book a lesson with an online English tutoring service. You may be surprised to find that it is quite cheap!
  2. Find an English conversation partner - there are millions of people around the world looking for English speaking partners.
  3. Record yourself, then listen and see where you can improve. I suggest listening to a podcast that offers a transcript and then making your recording. English Learning for Curious Minds is great for this.

6 Vocabulary skills

If you want to speak naturally, you will want to be more expressive. To be more expressive, you will need to improve your vocabulary.

Don’t try to use ‘bombastic words’ just to show off. Instead, try to use words that can capture your meaning more precisely.

For example, look at this sentence:

In the past decades, business has started to be conducted more easily across national borders and this has caused prices to decrease.

It is a long and complex sentence, difficult to understand. But by using just one precise word, we can shorten it to six words and make it easy to understand. This word is globalisation:

Globalisation has led to lower prices.

As an independent learner, you should always be on the lookout for useful and interesting words. You should keep a notebook and write down new words you find. Then, you should review these words regularly.

Read more tips on how to improve your vocabulary here.

7 Vocabulary skills: idioms

In a nutshell, an idiom is a word or phrase that has a special meaning. In particular, you cannot understand the meaning from the individual words.

For example, if we say that it is raining cats and dogs, we do not mean that pets are falling from the sky! It is an idiom that means ‘heavy rain’.

Similarly, when we begin a sentence with ‘in a nutshell’, we are not talking about nuts! We are simply saying that we want to give a brief description.

Idioms are a great way to make your English more expressive, more colourful and more natural.

However, English idioms can be very difficult to get correct. I suggest that you use an idiom only after you have heard it or read it several times in context.

How many idioms are there? According to one Oxford dictionary, there are over 10,000!

I suggest that in your vocabulary notebook, you keep a separate list just for idioms.

If you're interested in reading more about this, we have a guide on idioms in English.

8 Vocabulary skills: phrasal verbs

Perhaps more important than idioms are phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs are two- or three-part verbs, such as these:

The plane took off.
The effect of the medicine wore off.
I ran into George the other day.

Like idioms, phrasal verbs can be hard to catch the exact meaning of.

Furthermore, many English learners ignore phrasal verbs. For example, if they see the phrasal verb ‘wear off’, they ignore it - because they know the meaning of ‘wear’ and they know the meaning of ‘off’.

However, that does NOT mean that they know the meaning of ‘wear off’ (when the effect of something slowly goes away).

Phrasal verbs are used very often in English and, according to one Cambridge reference, there are over 6000 of them.

Hence, I suggest that in your vocabulary notebook, you keep a separate list just for phrasal verbs.

9 Vocabulary skills: sentence starters

Compare Marco and Pierre in these two exchanges.

Gordon: How is my chicken soup? Do you like it?
Marco: It’s nice.
Gordon: How is my chicken soup? Do you like it?
Pierre:
Without a doubt, it’s the best chicken soup I’ve ever had.

Notice how Pierre answered the question more expressively. One technique that he used was the use of a sentence starter.

A sentence starter is simply a phrase that we can place at the beginning of a sentence. 

Common sentence starters add emphasis, show our viewpoint or attitude towards a statement or help a listener understand what is coming next.

Here are some examples:

Every once in a while, I go surfing.
Fortunately, the King didn’t eat the poisoned soup.
As a result, the number of accidents increased.
Despite his wealth, Charles lived in a small house.

Sentence starters may seem like a small thing, but they really will help you to sound more natural.

Once again, I suggest keeping a separate list of sentence starters in your vocabulary notebook.

10 Vocabulary skills: strong adjectives

Let’s look at two more exchanges with Marco and Pierre.

Pete: This is my brand new Ferrari. Do you like it?
Marco: It’s nice.

Pete: This is my brand new Ferrari. Do you like it?
Pierre: Wow, it’s
absolutely gorgeous!

A Ferrari is a beautiful car - it does not seem natural to say that it’s ‘nice’, like Marco did. Instead, Pierre used a strong adjective - gorgeous.

A strong adjective can be used instead of the word ‘very’. The examples below are in bold.

Very beautiful - gorgeous
Very good - terrific, fantastic, excellent
Very bad - awful, terrible, horrendous
Very boring - tedious
Very exciting - thrilling, exhilarating

You can see how easy it is to use these words - simply use them to replace normal adjectives. There are many strong adjectives in English (but not as many as idioms and phrasal verbs).

You should note that we do not usually use these words together with ‘very’ (because they already mean ‘very’). However, we can further strengthen them with words like absolutely, completely and totally:

Wrong: It was a very fantastic performance.
Correct: It was an absolutely fantastic performance.

Once again, you can keep a list of strong adjectives in your vocabulary notebook.

The eleventh way

We have looked at ten ways that you can make your speaking sound more natural. However, there is an eleventh way: improving your confidence.

Always remember, as you improve these ten skills, that your English is getting better and better. 

You have every reason to be confident in yourself. Especially after working so hard.

Good luck on your English journey and I hope you will soon be speaking with charm and confidence, like Emmanuel Macron!