Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

3 Techniques for Speaking More Fluently

Flowing river by tim-peters-on-unsplashBeing "fluent" in a language is not a very precise term.

Actually when we learn a language, we go through various stages of fluency.

Plus, fluency in a language is often a subjective issue and can mean different things to different people.

Here are a few takes on Fluency by several well-known Polyglots in a recent Lingualift post.

  • If I can talk to people confidently about normal things, at a normal speed, and understand their replies without them having to adjust to me as a beginner, then this seems like a reasonable place for us to assign “fluency”. (Benny Lewis, The Irish Polyglot)
  • What if there’s different types of fluency? You’re ready for your holiday to Germany? You’re holiday fluent. You spend all day emailing Thai companies about Facebook? You’re business email fluent. (Lindsay Williams, Lindsay Does Languages)
  • After building up your vocabulary and practicing, you start to express your thoughts in a more automated, fast and spontaneous way, even if you make some mistakes. (Luca Sadurny, MosaLingua)
  • Language fluency for me is when my words have the consistency of a liquid rather than a solid. For example, if I suddenly can’t remember how to say “broccoli,” I can replace it, as I continue talking along unimpeded, with “you know, that green vegetable that looks like a little tree that George H. W. Bush refuses to eat.” (Ellen Jovin, Words and Worlds of New York)
  • I feel that there are also different degrees of fluency — one can have a fluent reading ability or they can be fluent in the language just for a specific industry (for example, they can talk about laws and contracts without hesitation but might not be able to talk about the weather) or they can even just be conversationally fluent (and unable to go too in-depth on really specific topics). (Shannon Kennedy, Eurolinguiste)

You get the drift. To me, being conversationally "fluent" in a language means not needing to prepare every sentence in my mind before saying it.

It means feeling pretty comfortable talking about everyday things. I'm not constantly stumbling over basic grammar or getting stuck because I can't find that exact word I need. But it does not mean that I don't make any mistakes.

Obviously, the best way to improve your fluency in speaking a language is to talk regularly with others, ideally with native speakers. And, for keeping your conversations going, you need enough vocabulary and a sufficient familiarity with relevant language patterns (word order, idioms, types of sentences, verb endings, etc.). For that, reading and listening a lot to your target language is helpful.

But to improve the flow of your speech, you can practice some specific techniques. They might just give you that extra push to better fluency.

These three practice techniques have helped me to speak more fluently in a couple of my languages. You can do them feeling none of the stress and anxiety you get when speaking up publicly. In Ellen Jovin's words, they have given my speech, "the consistency of a liquid rather than a solid".

1. Practice Sentences Aloud

Talking aloudTake an audio story that matches your level and which allows you to easily stop and replay any of the audio chunks.

A lot of programs have these. For example Duolingo has such stories for four languages. (I'm using the ones for Portuguese right now.)

But there's also LingQ that has mini-stories and podcasts in more languages.

You can also use a YouTube video, video series you watch on your computer, books on audible, etc.

Replay and repeat each chunk or full sentence two or three times in natural rapid speech, imitating the speed and melody of the speaker.

If your pronunciation is already pretty good, you can even take just a written text and read it aloud, repeating each sentence several times.

This practice has helped me:

  • Focus on and smooth out sound combinations that are hard for me
  • Sharpen my sentence intonation
  • Speed up my speech to a more natural pace

2. Explain Things in your Target Language

Friends arguingWhen you explain how to do something step by step in another language, it forces you to be both imaginative and precise.

That really helps you to become more versatile in using your target language.

Finding "how to do topics" is easy. Think about a hobby, a sport you love, a dish to prepare, or something practical, like ordering a book online, or fixing something that's broken. Use topics and vocabulary that interest you.

Conversations with a native speaker are the perfect place to try out some of your explanations. Urge him or her to keep asking questions to make you clarify what you mean.

If you don't have someone to talk to, write your explanations in a journal. You can then go over what you've written, check vocabulary, figure out other ways of saying it, etc.

This practice has helped me:

  • Find ways to keep going even when I can't remember a specific word
  • Become more resourceful in creating new sentences
  • Aquire vocabulary for topics that I'm interested in

3. Talk in your Head

If you're like me, you often talk silently to yourself. Sometimes I do it just to make sure I'm Talk in your head focused on a particular task.

But you can do self-talk your target language at any time during the day. It's a useful stepping stone to thinking in the language.

Tell yourself stories, go over things you need to do, figure things out verbally, or have internal arguments with an imagined conversation partner.

You may even end up dreaming in your new language! I'm told that's a sure sign of improved fluency.

This practice has helped me:

  • Keep the language in my mind off and on throughout the day
  • Learn to think in my target language
  • Try out conversations without the stress of being in a real one

Learning a language is a journey of discovery with many ups and downs. As you go along, it's not always obvious that your fluency has improved.

But there may be moments, when you realize you were talking away in your target language without thinking about endings or worrying about stumbling.

Those feel great.