Last time, we discussed the importance of choosing the right filler words. But that’s not the only way you can improve your fluency. Want to put your language skills to use and make some friends? To connect with someone, you need to use a common language. Very often, that means forgetting many things you read about in your textbook. How is that even possible?
Do you want to sound like a book, or a person?
Do you want to sound like a book, or a person?
When you start learning a new language, you may use textbooks to help you organise new vocabulary and grammar concepts. Think of it as a guided introduction to a new language and culture. Such books often use simple sentences spoken with a clear distinguishable accent so that beginners and intermediate students can follow. However useful, they often don't represent how people actually speak.
More advanced students tend to forget about this. They stick to coursebooks that focus on complex sentences and sophisticated synonyms. It makes sense given their goals: job interviews, studying at a university, working in government institutions or companies. But as a result, informal and casual interactions like a friendly chat between colleagues are neglected. If you keep practising the use of language in formal situations only, how can you freely communicate outside of them?
Our daily communication is often marred by inconsistencies, imperfections, and hesitations. You will find that missing from audio dialogues in coursebooks. Here’s how you can practice informal language skills:
- Watch YouTube, movies and TV shows portraying daily-life situations
- Listen to lifestyle radio stations and podcasts presented by native speakers
- Use live chat messengers and live video chats to talk to people
- Befriend some native speakers and hang out together
- Listen to pop music and rap
- Rewrite formal sentences using phrasal verbs, idioms, and slang to make them sound informal
- Check dictionaries to learn new idioms
If you keep practising the use of language in formal situations only, how can you freely communicate outside of them?
France? Haven’t been there
For starters, we’re taught that in English you need to include a pronoun indicating who does what. Verbs usually look the same, so you can imagine how confusing it would be otherwise! However, what you’re not taught is that in informal speech it’s perfectly fine to omit pronouns in the right situation! You cannot do it willy-nilly, there are some rules that you need to obey:
- Pronouns cannot be dropped in a yes/no question
- Pronouns cannot be dropped in a wh-question
- Pronouns cannot be dropped in embedded clauses, i.e. in longer sentences interjected in the main sentence (think of longer parts of the sentence separated by commas)
- Stressed pronouns cannot be dropped
Here are a few examples of acceptable pronoun omission that you might hear at some point in a casual conversation:
- Can’t help you, sorry instead of I can’t help you, I’m sorry
- France? Haven’t been there instead of France? I haven't been there
- I hate autumn, always rains here instead of I hate autumn, it always rains here
If you’re into linguistics and academic writing, check the article by Andrew Weir on subject pronoun drop in English! In the article you will find more examples and learn about the differences in pronoun omission between spoken and written English.
What's a better way of practising pronunciation than with a native? Check our teachers who specialise in accent classes.
Informality can be expressed with more than just grammar and vocabulary. It applies to pronunciation as well. One of the many features of casual speech is the so-called ‘relaxed pronunciation.’ It is exactly what makes words flow so much better! Unfortunately, such changes are rarely discussed in coursebooks. So let’s go through some more noticeable examples.
Have you noticed that ‘him’ very often sounds like ‘im’ or that ‘have’ sounds more like ‘uv’? The initial ‘h’ in words: he, him, his, her, hers, has, have, had is often dropped if the words are not accented. In some accents and regional varieties, such as the Cockney accent from London, this is further extended to other words starting with ‘h,’ such as house, historical, hot and so on. This process is called h-dropping. Just try it yourself and say I haven’t seen him without pronouncing the ‘h’ sound and with more focus on connecting words instead. You’ll notice how smooth this sentence sounds now!
Imma, gonna, wanna, tryna
If you listen to pop and rap songs, you surely must have heard words like imma or gotta. They illustrate elision – the process in which a sound or a syllable is omitted. It can truly help you save a precious second or two! No surprise it’s used in songs to improve the rhythm and flow. There are many flavours of elision in English. For example, it frequently occurs with the ‘t’ sound (especially in American English varieties):
- want to → wanna,
- got to → gotta,
- going to → gonna and I’m going to → imma,
- trying to → tryna,
- ought to → oughta,
But not only – elision is often used with have as well:
- could have → coulda,
- should have → shoulda,
- would have → woulda.
And if that’s not enough, here are a few other notable examples of elision which you can incorporate in daily life conversation:
- kind of → kinda,
- sort of → sorta,
- come on → c’mon,
- let me → lemme,
- give me → gimme,
- don’t know → dunno.
Youtube or Youchube?
Isn’t that strange how many YouTubers seem to mispronounce the name of the platform? For some reason the ‘t’ sound in YouTube becomes a ‘ch’ sound. This process is called a ‘coalescent assimilation’ – I know, it sounds very scary. The rules are actually simple, so let me write it down for you and you’ll see it’s as easy as pie!
- t + 'y' sound = ‘ch’ sound: YouTube → YouChube; what ya doing? → whatcha doing?; I’m mad at you → I’m mad atchyou
- d + 'y' sound = English soft ‘g’ sound: would you? → wudge you; where did you go? → where didgeyou go?
- s + ‘y’ sound’ = ‘sh’ sound: I miss you => I mish you,
- z + ‘y’ sound’ = French soft ‘g’ sound: Has your car broken down? => Hedge your car broken down?
If this still looks confusing to you, watch this handy video with examples. This should better illustrate the differences in pronunciation as you can hear the sentences!
Want to work on your accent to sound like native? Check the teachers offering pronunciation classes!
And if you’re familiar with academic language and International Phonetic Alphabet (which is very helpful when learning foreign languages!), we also recommend checking this page for more information. There you will find some really useful tips on how to improve your pronunciation.
Ultimately, everything depends on how often you practise conversations. Try to incorporate some slang and casual speech into your daily life and you’ll see how quickly your fluency and mastery of language can improve!
This is the second entry in the series 7 tried tips on how to sound like a true native, the first one being available right here. Stay tuned for more blog posts!
- however + adjective – despite being (adjective)
- marred by – spoiled, made worse and less enjoyable
- willy-nilly – without any planning, order, or structure, in a random manner
- as easy as pie – very easy