There is no easy way of learning a language. This reinforces the idea that you cannot possibly ‘cheat’ your way into becoming fluent. There’s no shame in having difficulty with sentence structures that are completely different to one’s native tongue, or struggling with the pronunciation of certain words.
However, you don’t have to worry. As with any language, there are tips that help ESL students navigate the intricacies of conversation. While students should not feel discouraged in conversing, it’s also important to start navigating some “rules” of the English language. The following tips are just some of the numerous ways to ease your way into improving as an English speaker:
1. Think in English.
Even when you’re not actively using English while conversing or writing, think in English. This can be difficult at first, contrary to when you’re thinking in your native language. But the more you think in the English language, the easier conversations with native speakers will become.
2. Start with simple sentences.
Compound complex sentences are great, but in every day conversation about one’s day, simple sentences will be sufficient. “Simplicity is key,” is the age old adage, which applies to conversation when you’re not too confident in your own conversational skills. Next time you have to talk to a native speaker, don’t panic! Keep it simple.
3. It’s okay to make mistakes.
When speaking your native language and you make a slight mistake, do you stop, and start from the beginning? Of course you don’t. The same should be true with English. The more frequent you stop, the more uncertain you will appear to your conversation partner.
Remember that it’s fine if you make mistakes; talk your way out of it! If you make it a habit to talk confidently, regardless of the situation, then you’ll continue to improve without even noticing the amazing progress you’re making.
4. Stop and Listen.
Half of every conversation is comprised of listening. No matter how good you are at talking about yourself, it will all be pointless if you cannot listen and comprehend your conversation partner’s responses.
You can practice listening as you watch movies and television in English, or tune in to online podcasts about random topics. If you are unsure of the meaning in your partner’s response, don’t be afraid to stop and ask them to repeat themselves or clarify what they meant.
5. Phrases and Colloquialisms.
You can have the perfect grammar, the best accent, and an impressive vocabulary, but you may not pass as a native speaker, if you don’t know any phrases and colloquialisms.
Therefore, it’s doubly important as an ESL student that you memorize some phrases, and adapt them to your vernacular for usage in daily conversation. It can be as simple as using more contractions (isn’t, aren’t, can’t, etc.) or saying What’s up? when you want to know what someone is doing.
More examples can be found in English media, but it’s important to understand that there are nuanced differences in the colloquialisms used, which is dependent on the particular place of origin. As such, the best way to learn the phrases most commonly used by the English speakers in your area is through starting conversations with random people in you come across, and taking note of their colloquialisms of choice.
6. Sayings and Metaphors.
This is closely related with the culture, but it’s also essential in becoming fluent at a language. Whether it’s Mandarin Chinese, or Quebec French, there are typical sayings and metaphors, which have become as much a part of the language as certain grammatical rules. English is no different.
You can learn the most common sayings of the English speakers in your area through daily conversation and listening to the local radio stations. As a beginner, you’re not really expected to integrate English sayings in daily conversations. Knowing how to introduce yourself in English is enough. However, if your goal is to become fluent, and convince others that you are, in fact, a native speaker, then try to integrate common English sayings in daily conversation.
7. Tell jokes!
Normal conversations – regardless of the language and culture – involve a joke or two. Whether it’s an amusing anecdote from your own experiences, or a typical “Knock, Knock” joke, they are a natural part of any conversation with an acquaintance or friend.
However, your delivery, grammar, and even intonation are crucial to the success of your joke with the audience. In this sense, telling jokes can be harder than introducing yourself, because of the myriad of factors which influence how the jokes are being conveyed. But sometimes, it can also result in raucous laughter from everyone involved. Remember – even if you make mistakes, do your best to tell the joke from start to finish without any unplanned pause.
8. Plan ahead.
Although it’s important that you can improvise on the spot, and you don’t rely on preparation, planning ahead may be necessary and even helpful, especially if you are a beginner. For example, if you know that you will be eating in a lot of restaurants in the near future, try to memorize certain words and phrases that are appropriate for the occasion.
You can even do this for normal conversations with people you want to impress – a teacher, or your boss. You can rehearse asking them about their weekend, and talking about mundane topics that you know they like.
9. Stay relaxed.
It’s so simple, but when you’re trying to remember all of these tips and vocabulary, it’s easy to get lost in your head. That’s why it’s important that you stay relaxed and let the conversation’s flow carry you. Don’t stress about being perfect, and focus on improving with each and every conversation.
There are many more tips for having conversations in English, but every person has his or her own unique approach to mastering a language. Keep this in mind during your next conversation. When you start creating your own tips and “cheats” for conversations, you will realize that conversations in English are not as difficult as you first thought.