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10 Ways to Speak More Naturally in English

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10 Ways to Speak More Naturally in
English
Published on
March 2, 2022
|
📖
8
min read
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.
Table of contents
What does it mean to speak “naturally”?1 The role of grammar in natural speech2 Vocal skills:
pronunciation3 Vocal skills: accent4 Vocal skills: rhythm and stress5 Vocal skills: fluency6
Vocabulary skills7 Vocabulary skills: idioms8 Vocabulary skills: phrasal verbs9 Vocabulary skills:
sentence starters10 Vocabulary skills: strong adjectivesThe eleventh way
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!
Table of contents
What are the benefits of sentence starters?Are sentence starters only for spoken English?Ten
sentence starters that you can use right now1 Adverbs of viewpoint2 With and without3 After/before
+ ING4 Like and unlike5 Despite6 According to7 For instance8 As a result9 Every once in a while10
Without a doubtA little language hackStrategies for using sentence startersWhat are good sources to
find sentence starters?
As your English gets better and you begin to speak more confidently, you can
choose new language goals.
A good goal for intermediate and upper-intermediate speakers of English is to
become more expressive (use more precise and complex language to explain
things). But how?
To see one method, 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.
We can see that Pierre is more expressive. Let’s analyse how he expressed
himself:
Weak statement: It’s nice.
Stronger statement: It’s the best.
Even stronger statement: It’s the best chicken soup I’ve ever had.
Even stronger statement: Without a doubt, it’s the best chicken soup I’ve
ever had.
We can make a statement stronger by using stronger words, such
as best instead of nice. We can also make a statement stronger by adding
blocks of language to the beginning or end of a sentence.
Here, we will look at adding blocks of language to the beginning of a
sentence. We will call these sentence starters.
What are the benefits of sentence starters?
Sentence starters can make your English more expressive. However, this is
not the only benefit.
When you speak, a sentence starter indicates what you are going to say next.
It prepares the listener to understand better.
For example, if you begin a sentence with “for example”, it clearly signals to
the listener that you are going to explain an example.
This is a key skill in giving presentations, where it is sometimes
called signposting.
Another benefit of using sentence starters is that it will make your English
more natural. Native speakers use sentence starters all the time.
Are sentence starters only for spoken English?
Sentence starters are NOT only for spoken English. When writing an essay,
for instance, we often use words such as first, second, third and finally.
These simple sentence starters help the reader to better understand the
structure of your writing.
If you are taking an exam, such as the IELTS, sentence starters show the
examiner that you are able to structure your ideas in writing.
Ten sentence starters that you can use
right now
Without further ado, let’s see ten sentence starters that you can use right
away.
Every example shown here is suitable for both spoken or written English.
1 Adverbs of viewpoint
An adverb of viewpoint is simply an adverb that we place at the beginning of a
sentence. It shows how we feel or explains our viewpoint about something.
Some examples
are honestly, fortunately, unfortunately, basically, personally, obviously
and clearly.
Example: Fortunately, the King didn’t eat the poisoned soup.
The word fortunately shows that we think it is a good thing that the King was
not poisoned. On the other hand, imagine that we hate the King. We could
say:
Unfortunately, the King didn’t eat the poisoned soup.
Notice how easy it is to use these adverbs of viewpoint. You simply add them
to the beginning of a sentence.
2 With and without
A nice way to begin a sentence is using with or without:
Example 1: Without you, my life is meaningless!
Example 2: With the help of my friends, I was able to complete the project.
Many English learners use with and without at the end of a sentence. Why
not change things up and use these words as sentence starters?
3 After/before + ING
Many English learners don’t realise that you can shorten a clause
with after or before, like this:
Original sentence: After I ate, I washed the dishes.
Shortened sentence: After eating, I washed the dishes.
Original sentence: Before she left, Laura locked the door.
Shortened sentence: Before leaving, Laura locked the door.
When used in this way, it becomes a sentence starter.
4 Like and unlike
We can show similarity or dissimilarity by starting a sentence
with like or unlike:
Example 1: Like me, George grew up in a poor family.
Example 2: Unlike me, Jacob was born into a rich family.
Again, note how easy it is to use these words.
5 Despite
Despite is used to show a surprising outcome:
Example 1: Despite winning the lottery, George was unhappy.
Example 2: Despite her good looks, she never got married.
There are two possible sentence structures. We can use an -ING verb
(example 1) or we can use a noun/noun phrase (example 2).
Let’s see another example of each sentence type:
Example 3: Despite having four wives, Ahmad had no children.
Example 4: Despite his wealth, Charles lived in a small house.
6 According to
According to is a useful way to reference where we got our information:
Example 1: According to my aunt, chocolate can be poisonous to dogs.
Example 2: According to government statistics, 10% of people under 25
are unemployed.
By the way, did you notice that we always use a comma after a sentence
starter? If so, well done! You have an eagle eye.
(If you have an eagle eye, you will also have noticed the sentence starters ‘by
the way’ and ‘if so’.)
7 For instance
Every English learner knows to say ‘for example’ when you wish to explain
an example. Why not be a little different and show off your vocabulary at the
same time?
For instance means exactly the same thing as for example and we use it in
the same way:
Example: There are many activities you can do at the Sunnyview Resort. For
instance, you can go hiking in the mountains.
8 As a result
In writing, we often need to explain cause and effect relationships. As a
result is a great sentence starter for these kinds of sentences:
Example: The government raised the speed limit on the main highway. As a
result, the number of accidents increased.
This sentence starter clearly defines the relationship between the two
sentences. This makes it easier for the reader/listener to understand..
9 Every once in a while
Many sentence starters describe time and frequency.
Most English learners are familiar
with usually, occasionally, sometimes, often and always. But what
about every once in a while, every now and then and once in a blue
moon?
These are all more expressive ways to say ‘occasionally’:
Example 1: Every once in a while, I go surfing.
Example 2: Every now and then, Sandra bakes cookies for everyone.
Example 3: Once in a blue moon, George actually tells a funny joke.
10 Without a doubt
The first example we covered was without a doubt. It shows certainty and
makes a statement stronger:
Example: Without a doubt, this is a very dangerous road.
We can also use undoubtedly, unquestionably or undeniably:
Example: Undoubtedly, Cambridge is a prestigious university.
A little language hack
Before we continue, here is a little language ‘hack’ for you: most of these
sentence starters can also go at the end of a sentence!
Here are some examples:
This is a very dangerous road, without a doubt.
10% of people under 25 are unemployed, according to government
statistics.
George was unhappy despite winning the lottery.
Jacob was born into a rich family, unlike me.
Although these phrases can go at either the start or end of a sentence, it is
often better to put them at the start. This is because you give the listener or
reader information about your statement before you say it.
Strategies for using sentence starters
We have seen how sentence starters can:
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

Help express opinions
Make statements stronger
Better structure writing and presentations
Show relationships between sentences
Show time relationships
Express a point of view about a statement
They do all of these things and more. This is why it is so important to know
and use a collection of sentence starters. But how can you do this?
First of all, get a notebook and reserve a page for writing down sentence
starters (as you would do with new vocabulary).
Next, build your list by watching out for sentence starters when you read and
when you listen. (You can start your list with the sentence starters in this
article.)
Finally, try out your new sentence starters in your own spoken and written
English.
What are good sources to find sentence starters?
Really…anywhere. Sentence starters are very common.
If you love reading, you can find them in both fiction and non-fiction.
As for spoken English. Look for listening activities where a transcript is
available. These include podcasts, including English Learning for Curious
Minds, TED talks, and YouTube videos.
I recommend learning sentence starters from podcasts and TED talks. You
will be able to both read and hear sentence starters used in context and you
will feel more confident to use them yourself.
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