Many people who study English acquire a substantial vocabulary and use verb tenses at least as well as native English speakers.
Putting that voluminous knowledge together in such a way that everyday conversation and official matters are all handled with a minimum of stress and complication is a different proposition altogether.
Is it acceptable to use slang in formal dealings or college admissions offices? How can I use this idiom to get my point across effectively?
In support of your dedication to learning English, we offer these tips to increase your proficiency in speaking your adopted language.
How to Learn English: Accents
Did you know that there are more than 20 different accents spoken around the US?
If you are not a native English speaker from the USA you are probably shocked by this statement. When you start learning a language it is normal to focus on things like comprehension and expression beyond really focusing on the accent of the people who are speaking to you.
But this tends to change overtime as you become more comfortable speaking English. Little by little you will start noticing subtleties in the way people speak and differences in expressions and vocabulary.
While this might not be the most important thing for you to focus on right now, it is definitely an entertaining thing to notice and practice, especially if you have the chance to do an exchange program or do some sort of immersion experience in the USA.
Here are some examples of different American accents:
- New England English: New England is known to be the most historic part of the USA which means that each region and even small town has had a chance to develop their own, very distinct, accent. If you talk to people from New England, they will probably tell you they can figure out what town someone’s from based on dialect alone. While that might be a bit too granular, we can definitely make the distinction between East New England English and West New England English. The main difference is that people in Eastern New England drop their “r”s (like people from Boston), and those in Western New England don’t. Can you recognize the differences?
- Pacific Northwest English: Pacific Northwest English is known for being rather "neutral". Still, there are some distinctive traces in the way they pronounce certain words. For example: they pronounce words like “don” and “dawn” the same, while other parts of the country separate them. Also, they pronounce the letter “e” in words like “egg” and “beg” more like an “ay,” so the words would sound like aygg and bayg.
- California English: People in places like California and Oregon speak close to standard American English. However, there are slight variations in how they speak. For example, people on the West coast tend to pronounce their consonants more heavily. They also tend to raise the pitches of their voices at the ends of words.
- Midwestern American English: this accent is mostly associated with Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio and parts of Illinois. While this is quite a large region in the US, they do tend to have a similar accent throughout. But what does this accent sound like? The further you move from the east coast, the more people elongate their vowels. They also round their O’s and enunciate consonants.
- Southern American English: Southern American English is one of the most popular American accents. Southerners are well known for having a drawl, saying “y’all” and maybe even “howdy.” Another noticeable feature among some Southerners is that they put the stress on different syllables in words. For example: “Guitar” is pronounced GEE-tahr and “police” POH-leess.
- Hawaii English And Pidgin: As you probably know, Hawaii is the 50th state, since it became part of the United States on August 21, 1959. Hawaiian people had to transition from their mother tongue (Hawaiian) to English. But this was not as easy as it sounds. To make it a little bit less tough for native Hawaiian people, they invented a pidgin. A pidgin is a rudimentary language created by two groups who don’t speak the same language. It has slowly evolved to sound more like regular English but some words still have a mix of languages. Other examples of relevant differences in the Hawaiian accent are: the “r”s are generally dropped because the “r” sound did not exist in Hawaiian, the “th” sound is not pronounced in Pidgin, so “the” will be pronounced more like “da” and “with” would be pronounced like “wit.”
- New York Accent: East Coast City accents are very particular, especially those from big cities like New York. Thanks to the mix of culture, immigration and population density, this particular city has given way to the creation of a very distinct accent. It is often considered the “most American,” and it pops up all the time in popular media. For people with thick New York dialects, “coffee” will be cawfee, “through” will be troo and “first” will be foist.
Can you distinguish the different American accents? Which one is your favorite?
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Tips to Improve Your English: Don't Translate!
Just about every language learner starts understanding their second language by translating words and phrases it into his/her native language. Equally true: any learner at the basic English stage will formulate ideas in his/her native language, and then translate them into English.
But here comes our first tip to start being a little bit more sophisticated in your learning of the language:
If you are at or beyond the middle-intermediate stage of learning English, you should have grown away from translating ideas in your head!
A common problem that plagues non-native English speakers is a literal interpretation of what is being said.
A second mistake often made by ESL learners is that they tend to accept everything being said by a native speaker with the utmost of seriousness. And this is out tip number 2:
Do not take everything literally!
The English language is full of expressions that, when accepted as absolute truth, make for huge misunderstandings.
Picture this sentence, taken literally: "That guy is so full of himself!"
As a non-English speaker this sentence is absolutely ridiculous. How can a person be full of themselves in a literal sense?!
This phrase is slang used in America to talk about a person that thinks great things about themselves.
As you can see thanks to this small exercise, rather than translating everything, or accepting every spoken word as authentic in meaning, you should pay attention to context and nuances.
You will cultivate fluency once you find English expressions and slang don't translate well into other languages.
More on Learning English Slang, Idioms and Colloquialisms
Even though people from the USA think they speak a very neutral and understandable English, truth is, they use many words and expressions that are quite complicated for non-English speakers to understand.
But that is exactly what makes English such an interesting language. The problem is that most English students tend to learn what we call "textbook English" which means learning words, phrases and expressions that are very formal and not something actual people would say.
Slang makes language colorful, descriptive and fun and, in many cases, much less formal than standard English vocabulary. This is where our third tip on how to learn English comes from:
Learn and use slang in non formal situations.
As an English learner, you might be uncomfortable using slang phrases in your spoken English but there is no harm in learning some, if only to increase your language comprehension.
The greater your understanding of English, the more confident you become in using it. Confidence is the very essence of fluency!
How to Learn American English: Contradictions
In some aspects, English is a complicated language. There are a lot of small details and nuances to take into consideration.
During the course of your English lessons online, you have most likely been encouraged to write every word properly – without contractions, and that is indeed a good way to build your English writing and spelling skills.
However, when speaking English, using contractions makes the language flow more naturally, as in this sentence:
Do not correct my English pronunciation. I should have done it myself.
Phonetically written: Don't correct my English pronunciation. I shoulda done it myself.
And here comes our fourth tip:
Using contractions will help you achieve a greater fluency in English.
Along with contractions, we must discuss connections.
Learning English as a foreign language, most likely your ESL teacher taught you that a word is an individual unit that must be clearly spoken.
Contrast that advice with the way a native English speaker says:
- What do you want to do? (Whachoo wanna do?)
- Where do you want to go? (Waird you wanna go?)
- I will leave it to you to decide. (Ah leavit tuh yoo tuh d'cide.)
Connecting words in this manner makes English both easier to pronounce and faster to speak.
To improve your speaking skills as well as fluency, learn the rules for connecting words.
You can practice your new speaking skills by taking some quizzes on that page, too!
Knowing how native speakers connect words will also help improve your listening skills.
Learn How to Speak English with Phrases
Understanding grammar rules and growing your vocabulary word by word are traditional ways to improve your English – at intermediate level and below.
To gain fluency, and especially if you are learning college level or business English, you should progress to learning entire phrases at once.
Learning phrases will not only increase your vocabulary, but it will give you context in how to use the words you have already learned.
And how to understand them when native speakers use them.
A particularly effective exercise for language learning and becoming more fluent is substitution. Here, we present an elementary example:
I am going to the train station. (airport, market, bus stop, corner, etc.)
By swapping destinations, you can improve your vocabulary as well as speed up your thinking in English, and challenge your grammar skills.
You could also say you are going to the concert or the kitchen, but you cannot say you are going to the room or the school, at least not without some qualifier: the back room, or the language school.
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How to Learn Fluent English by Singing
Many Esol students watch television, especially the news, in order to study language patterns and emulate the presenters.
While this idea has some merit, it shouldn't top the list of ways to learn English conversation.
The style of English language for broadcasting news is generally not suitable for everyday English usage.
Why not use music to improve your English speaking, instead?
You can find free English song lyrics online, for popular as well as older music. With the words in front of you, all you have to do is imitate the singer's vocalization.
The tempo and rhythm that songs are sung in can help you develop a style of speaking that is not only fluent but pleasing to hear.
An added bonus is that many modern songs make ample use of slang and include tricky, fashionable phrases.
- For learning English outside the classroom, and especially to gain an understanding of US humor, watch popular television shows like Friends, The Office or Schitt's Creek.
- There is no better way to break the ice with native English speakers than to flawlessly use phrases and expressions from trendy US TV shows.
- Your English teacher may show movies in class. Watching films, especially with English subtitles turned on, is a good way to gain exposure to English dialogue without the stress of having to respond.
- You can learn English online, with the British Council's website. Their online lessons and podcasts blend everyday English with a more formal speech that you might encounter in the course of your daily life.
- Search for "English courses in London" on Google or whatever city is closest to you to see the tutors available in your area.
Fluency in English can be achieved in a variety of ways, as has been pointed out here.
Of all of these methods, nothing compares to your using English today and every day, to improve English fluency.
Benefits of Practicing English with a Native Speaker
Our final, but very important, piece of advice has to do with your tutor or choice of conversation partner. While there are great teachers all over the world that teach and speak English flawlessly, learning English with a native speaker will always come with its own benefits.
If you choose a US born tutor for your English lessons, it is more likely that you will have a less "textbook" experience than if you choose a formed and very strict teacher.
Here are some of the benefits of practicing English with a native US speaker:
- You will learn a more authentic and practical use of vocabulary: with a native teacher you will be exposed to more idioms, dialect, slang and a generally more extensive vocabulary than with a non-native speaker. This is a great way for you to grow more familiarized with those words that are not as common in a very formal learning model. As you hear your native English partner use different vocabulary depending on what topics you discuss and what opinions they have, you can ask about and highlight new words to use yourself.
- You will not only learn about the language, but also about the culture: as you start practicing English with Native Speakers more, you will begin to hear and understand their opinions and feelings about certain topics. This will definitely give you some insight to the people and their culture. Are you planning to live in the US? Understanding etiquette, manners and appropriate language is especially useful and actually crucial. On the other hand, learning business English is also essential to make sure you know how to communicate yourself in a more formal environment.
- You will learn their accent and pronunciation: if you struggle with pronouncing certain words, or if you struggle to understand native speakers when they speak, the best way to tackle this issue is to talk to a native that wants to teach you all of this! You probably feel like you are much worse than you are when speaking, and gaining confidence is key. Your pronunciation might not be top notch since the beginning but that's totally normal! Don't sweat it and get to practicing.
- You will have more fun: try to talk often and about a range of topics, this will not only help expand your vocabulary, it will also improve your pronunciation and expose you to grammar rules in a completely natural way.
- You will be forced to speak English: if your English teacher only speaks English it means that your communication will only be in this language.
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Learn How to Speak English with Superprof
Now that you know a little bit more about the different accents in American English, some tips to improve your English speaking skills and the things you should avoid at all cost, it is time to take action and start taking English lessons with a tutor.
Superprof is the ideal platform for you to connect with thousands of tutors around the US and the world who are more than willing to teach you all the wonderful nuances of the language. The only thing you have to do is pick a tutor, reach out and start taking English lessons!
But before you start, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
- Why do I want to learn English?
- What is my current level? Am I starting from scratch or do I already have some knowledge?
- What type of teaching method works best for me?
- Do I want a native teacher?
- How much time do I want to devote to my English classes?
- How much money do I want to spend on my English classes?
- Do I want to learn English online or would I rather do it in person?
- Am I preparing myself to take a test like the TOEFL or CAE?
- What type of English (business English, coloquial English) do I want to learn?
Answering all these questions will help you figure out exactly what type of English tutor that you need. Once you have this in mind, you can go into the platform and look at the tutors' profiles. Each one has a very distinct profile, with different teaching methods, professional background and tutoring experience.
Make sure that you read these profiles thoroughly and that you also check out other students' reviews. These reviews are a great way for you to actually understand what it's like taking English lessons with each tutor!
Once you've found a tutor that looks promising, you can contact them and set up an interview session where you can discuss objectives and see if you click. If you do, just set up a schedule, discuss any logistics that need to be weeded out and get ready to learn how to become fluent in English!
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