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5 ways to make your English more natural

Are you looking to improve your English language skills and sound more like a native speaker? Achieving natural, fluent English involves more than just memorising grammar rules and expanding your vocabulary. In this blog, we'll explore five key strategies to make your English more natural.



1. Use modal verbs (and semi-modal verbs).


Although they can be difficult to grasp, modal verbs are very useful. They add nuance and depth to your language, conveying possibility, necessity, ability, and more. I know that it might be tempting to avoid them because they are so nuanced, difficult to translate, and impossible to define, but if you take some time to notice natural English, you will find them everywhere. They really are super functional and very very 'English'. If you really want to sound more natural, embracing modal and semi-modal verbs, is a great way to level up.


Are you guilty of avoiding them because the direct translation is easier?

Which of the following would you say?


a) I think it's possible that it is going to rain this afternoon.

b) I think it might rain this afternoon.


a) It's a good idea if we go to the bank first.

b) I think we should go to the bank first.


a) It started to rain, so it was necessary that we went in.

b) It started to rain, so we had to go in.


Which are more 'English'?


2. Use multi-word verbs.


In everyday spoken and natural English, a small number of high frequency verbs (go, come, get, take...) make up a large proportion of the language. Combining these high frequency (easy) verbs with one or more particles gives us 'multi-word verbs' and a huge range of vocabulary without needed to use long words. Multi-word verbs (phrasal verbs and prepositional verbs) are an integral part of informal English, providing a dynamic and expressive way to show actions. So, instead of sticking strictly to formal (usually longer) verbs, try to use multi-word verbs instead. There are endless combinations, and they can seem a bit confusing because each part cannot be translated, but I recommend having a go. Try 'go with' instead of 'accompany', 'look up' instead of 'research', or 'set up' instead of 'establish'. Multi-word verbs will inject life into your language and help you sound more natural, especially in casual conversations.



3. Check that your vocabulary isn't mistranslated.


One common pitfall for language learners is translating words directly from their native language. It can lead to awkward phrasing and misunderstanding. Instead, aim to think in English and understand words within the context of the language.


One of my students recently told me an anecdote "... my friend changed her hair, but I couldn't 'perceive' any difference", she said. Whilst the basic meaning of the word 'perceive' seemed to translate from their language quite well, this usage just didn't sound natural to me. Together, we looked deeper at this and identified that 'perceive a difference' works quite well as a synonym for 'become aware' / 'realise' and 'understand', but it doesn't work as well for making a visual distinction. We decided that "... I didn't notice" or "... I couldn't see the difference" would be better. After exploring even further, we came up with "My friend changed her hair, but I couldn't tell the difference". It took a bit of time, but we decided that this choice of language was best to both convey the intended meaning but also to sound natural.



4. Mind your grammar


Achieving natural English involves navigating grammar intricacies. Pay attention to common stumbling blocks such as 'who' vs. 'whom' and the debate over ending sentences with prepositions. However, while formal writing may require adherence to strict grammar rules, spoken English often embraces a more relaxed approach. Understanding these variations helps you communicate effectively while maintaining a natural flow.


Compare...


a) The student to whom I was speaking sat down.

b) The student who I was speaking to sat down.


Which one is grammatically correct? Which one is more natural?


5. Study pronunciation


Pronunciation is a crucial aspect of sounding natural in any language. Did you know there are 44 sounds in the English sound system? Some of them might not exist in your first language. Do you know which ones? Study the sounds of English, stress patterns, intonation, and rhythm too to improve your pronunciation.


Did you know that English is a stress-timed language which makes it fundamentally different from many other languages in terms of its 'rhythm'. This makes our pattern of speaking very different, but it also means we listen in a different way. If you want to understand more about the English sound system, consider taking some lessons with a specialist teacher.


For even more natural English, you can also adopt techniques for connected speech, where words flow seamlessly into one another.


My top tip is to mimic native speakers, and practice regularly to refine your pronunciation and sound more like a confident English speaker.


5 ways to make your English more natural
5 ways to make your English more natural

These strategies will not only make your English more natural but also boost your confidence in various conversational settings.


Remember, language learning is a journey, and each step brings you closer to sounding natural. Happy learning!





 

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