How to speak English fluently – 10 key steps
In today’s world, the better your English, the more you can partake in all things global: from internet culture that knows no borders to international business that crosses them.
And while speaking English fluently can open new doors and expand your horizons, it’s important to remember that fluency is not about perfection. It’s about feeling at ease with the language and being able to express your truth with it.
Here’s how to start speaking English more fluently in ten steps.
1. Use idioms
Using idioms is a hallmark of fluency and a sign that you understand and appreciate the more ‘poetic’ side of the language. English is rich in idioms and native speakers love to pepper their speech with these colorful expressions.
So what is an idiom? An idiom is a phrase that ‘paints a picture’ instead of relying on the literal meaning of the words it's made up of. For example, an English speaker might say: “break a leg!” to a friend before an exam. They don’t literally hope their friend breaks a leg, it’s simply another way of saying “good luck!”.
2. Use the right idioms
Once you’ve got the most popular English idioms down, remember that using the right ones — a British English one in the UK or an American English one in the US — is what will set you apart as a truly fluent speaker of English.
While many idioms are shared regardless of which dialect you speak, there are some important differences:
In American English, you say “to toot your own horn” (meaning to praise your own skills or abilities), while in British English you say: “to blow your own trumpet”.
In American English, you say: “to tear into someone” (meaning to attack someone with words), while in British English you say: “have a go at someone”.
For more on American vs. British idioms go here.
3. Work on your words
To level up your English, you need to focus on expanding your vocabulary. The richer and more varied your word choice, the more fluent you will sound.
Because English has the biggest vocabulary in the world (approximately 750,000 words and counting!), you have a lot of words to choose from. This is an exciting part of working towards fluency, but can also make it difficult: being fluent doesn't just mean knowing lots of words, but knowing exactly when to use them.
Start off by training yourself to use “very” and “really” less and using a more precise, sophisticated word to convey what you want instead. For example:
Instead of “very lucky”, say “fortunate”
Instead of “very good”, say “exceptional”
Instead of “very interesting”, say “intriguing”
4. Learn in chunks
Speaking our native language is easier because we rely on phrases instead of looking for new ways of putting together words each time we want to express something.
Neuroscientists have been able to show that developing short patterns helps the brain retrieve and use new words “in the heat of the moment”.
Do this by putting new words you’ve learned into phrases that you memorize right away. It’s not only more effective as a memorization strategy but will help you sound more fluent over time.
5. Pick a dialect (or not)
When trying to work towards fluency, it can help to pick a dialect (accent + specific vocabulary or grammar) to emulate. This is important if you interact with native speakers all the time or want to “fit in” in your adoptive country.
There are more than a hundred English dialects to choose from; from American and British English to Irish, South African, and Kiwi (New Zealand), among many others.
If you’re keen on “sounding American”, for example, you could pick a regional dialect — Texans, after all, sound very different from New Yorkers — but you could also choose to learn something more “neutral”, like a more generic American one (this is often spoken by non-native fluent speakers of English who have gone to international school and been exposed to a variety of English accents over a long period of time.)
But remember: It’s also perfectly fine to retain your foreign accent (it can be very charming!) and getting rid of it is not a measure of how fluent you are.
As long as your accent is slight, research shows that you’ll be able to communicate as credibly as someone who sounds more “native”.
6. Know the culture
Fluent language skills go hand-in-hand with fluent cultural ones. Language is intricately linked to culture and fluency is marked by the ability to reference cultural things like slang, idioms, popular shows, music, movies, and literature in conversation.
If you’re aiming to become fluent in British English, for example, make sure you spend as long as possible in Britain (see the last point) and immerse yourself in British culture, humor, TV shows, and literature.
7. Master slang
Being able to use slang is another hallmark of fluency.
Although a lot of English slang these days is global and goes out of fashion quicker than you can mutter “slang”, some is specific to, say, Aussie English.
Start off by knowing your way around local slang — British, for example — and becoming familiar with the latest (global) English slang terms. You should also make sure you know the most common abbreviations and slang words used on Whatsapp and other informal (written) forms of English. Some of these are even used in spoken language these days.
8. Binge some shows
One of the best ways to become fluent is to spend hours on your couch (or in bed) watching stuff. Yes, you read that right: you now have an excuse to binge on your favorite shows on Netflix!
To become fluent in English you have to be exposed to how it is used by native speakers in a variety of contexts. Watching everything from reality shows to (contemporary) scripted shows and documentaries helps you absorb vocabulary, slang, expressions, and accents while chilling out.
Try turning the English subtitles on to connect what you hear with how the word is written or turn them off to focus solely on how things sound.
9. Imitate others
Speaking English fluently means working on your accent and pronunciation actively and consciously. One of the most effective ways to do this is to imitate how others speak.
Pick a celebrity or other native speakers you like and try to imitate how they speak, paying special attention to their rhythm and intonation.
One way of doing this is listening to audiobooks of your favorite actors reading their autobiographies (try Matthew McConaughey’s “Greenlights”, for example). You’ll get to know them better and be exposed to how they speak for hours on end. You can also watch or listen to interviews they’ve done on Youtube or for a podcast.
10. Immerse yourself
True fluency can really only be achieved by putting the language to use each and every day in a range of settings, from a coffee date with a friend to a presentation at school.
Full immersion — working or studying in an English-speaking country — is a known pathway to fluency because it ensures you hear and use English from the moment you wake up to the moment you fall asleep (you may even start dreaming in English!). In essence, you’ll be putting points 1-9 into use naturally and for extended periods of time, turbocharging your learning journey.
For the full effect — in terms of linguistic and cultural fluency — consider staying in an English-speaking country for at least a few months, ideally six or more. This gives you enough time to practice and will put you on a sure path to speaking English fluently.