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: 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.