Learning a new language can be a difficult process. As a world language, many people must learn English for their professional careers. To support people who desire to learn English, I wrote this short guide to improving fluency from the beginning level of spoken English to fluency. There are 50 levels of English described in this document, as well as 40 practical suggestions for the improvement of one’s personal level of English.
Background to this method
Based on almost ten years of teaching experience as well as a foundation in IELTS theory, the English Fluency Levels document was designed for simplicity’s sake; these suggestions are guideposts for language acquisition, but are by no means a comprehensive methodology. Learning a language is a process and requires growth and change; to say that learning a langauge is as simple as one, two, three, would be a disservice to the langauge itself and to those who speak it. However, by purposing yourself towards a goal, you will achieve language fluency much quicker. The English Fluency Levels document is meant to serve as a guide for students of English.
How to use this document
Before you can most effectively utilize this document, you need to find a native speaker who is either aware of the theory or methodology presented here, or who has been trained in TEFL/TESOL/IELTS (and hopefully who has a certification). Ask them to interview you and score you on the following categories below and give you a number from 1-10, where 1 is a student who has just started learning the language, and where 10 is a native speaker. Once you have your score, find your relative score on the chart for a short description of your capabilities, and then work through each of the categories and find the suggestions designed for that categorical level.
As you improve your English, you may find certain suggestions too easy or trivial, at which point you can safely assume you have improved and can move up a level. Not every stage is as simple as the next, and for each person the time required to ascend to the next will be different. As with all things but especially with language learning, be patient, challenge yourself, and embrace failure. If you have failed you can celebrate, because it is far worse to think you have not failed than it is to realize you have and know how you need to improve.
Correctly using words in sentences, including the use of nouns, verbs, prepositions, articles, adverbs, adjectives, and so on; in addition, using those elements in the proper of a sentence.
Correctly shaping sentences by following punctuation marks accordingly and not breaking up sentences awkwardly.
Correctly saying words, with the inclusion of consonants and ending letters, and the proper shaping of vowel letters in words.
Depth and breadth of available words you use in your sentences, including compound words, slang, and invention (use of words in new ways).
Ability to use details in speech rather than only abstract thoughts and big ideas; using stories, facts, and description to shape sentences.
After your interview, I told you a specific ranking number you had achieved. You were scored on those five categories, from 1-10, where 1 showed little or no skill in that category, and 10 was the level I expected of a native speaker. Please note your location on the following list.
49 Native speaker
CLARITY: Hearing yourself (putonghua)
Learn to listen to yourself speak. For you, the key to improving your spoken English will be to first improve your standard spoken language (putonghua), to the point where you can speak with the common standard (putonghua, without an accent). To do this, use mimicry and repetition, and perhaps learn to distinguish notes on a scale and teach yourself to sing the correct notes. When you can hear yourself talking, you will naturally improve through listening and mimicry.
Listen to the volume of a native speaker reading through a passage or speech. Make a sentence chart, and then mark how loud or soft the native speaker is during parts of the sentence and try to match the recording. Words and phrases in English are spoken louder or softer to emphasize importance. For the moment, mimic what you hear, but don’t try to improvise by changing the emphasis. Remember to keep your speed equal with the native speaker.
GRAMMAR: Structure (basic)
Listen to yourself. Does each of your spoken English sentences contain a subject, a verb, and an object? Are your adjectives before objects and your adverbs before or after your verbs? Are your prepositions (under the… in a…) always before a noun? Work on mastering the basic sentence structures in your spoken English using very simple sentences.
VOCABULARY: Internalization (phrases)
Carry around a tiny notebook filled with vocabulary words, and practice saying those words as you walk around the campus or your local community. Practice using those vocabulary words in short to long phrases (not sentences), and make them a part of your inner mind. Making words and phrases a part of your inner mind is key to being able to remember them when you are called to use them in an improvisational setting (such as a conversation or discussion).
As you are walking or sitting, identify objects you can see and remember the names of those objects, and then think to yourself how you are relating to those objects. For example, “The box is next to me,” or “I drink from the coffee cup.” Complexify (add more objects and emotions) to your practice, for example: “I drink from the coffee cup because I am so tired,” or “The big box next to me leaves me little space to think.” Train yourself to think in more complex patterns, instead of relying on simple surface-level reactions.
CLARITY: Hearing the differences
Record yourself speaking words and phrases in English (not sentences or paragraphs), and then compare yourself with a native speaker saying those same words. Does your voice sound the same as the native speaker? Can you identify where the problem is? Focus on identifying your biggest problems and make a list of them. Then begin to work through each issue one at a time, until you are confident the differences in words and phrases have been solved and you believe you sound more similar to the native speaker.
Practice speaking sentences and changing the emphasis of particular words or phrases. Observe how changing the emphasis in words, phrases, or even sentences changes the meaning of a sentence. Remember to keep your speed the same as a native speaker as well as your breathing stops (refer to previous suggestions if you are unsure what this means). Read through the same passage as a native speaker but change the emphasis in words and phrases to change the direction and emotion of the reading. Then reflect on your own spoken ability and consider how you could change the emphasis on words you speak to better communicate your inner feelings.
GRAMMAR: Structural analysis
Read the script of a speech or a dialogue written by an English speaker (not an essay or article). Analyze the grammatical structures (subject, verb, object, preposition, conjunction, adjective, adverb) and then copy down that structure onto a piece of paper. Now use that same structure but with different words about a different topic (be creative) and practice speaking your new sentence out-loud as you internalize the structure.
VOCABULARY: Popular words
As you listen to native speakers speaking English, make notes of the most popularly used words they utilize in a given speech or dialogue. Are you using those same words in your spoken English? Are you neglecting those words? Keep those words in a special place in your notebook, and review them time to time, reminding yourself to use them in any discussion you may have where you are speaking in English; practice using those words enough, and they will become a part of your basic vocabulary.
Describe your emotions as you are walking or sitting, and then describe why you are feeling that way. For example, “I feel happy because I saw a cute girl,” or “I am sad because the weather is not good.” Improve your ability to explain your emotions through a physical or realistic situation, and try to describe that physical or realistic situation by using words that express your feelings to the highest detail you are able. Once you hit a wall (you don’t know how to further express your feelings) write down either the emotion or the situation, and meditate on how to better express that particular idea using the words you currently know.
Consonants (hard/ending sounds) are one of the most important sounds in the English language. Train yourself to exaggerate the consonants of words, for example: BoX, TarGeT, MaN, WoMaN, TiMe. Now work through your words and phrases and make sure you are speaking the consonants as clearly as humanly possible. Slow yourself down if necessary. Learn to visualize the consonants in the words you are speaking, by visualizing the letters in the word as you speak it.
Listen to how a native speaker will increase or decrease pitch in a sentence to better control the direction of the sentence. Mimic his or her pitch, but don’t exaggerate the pitch (that sounds silly and will establish bad habits if you internalize the exaggeration). Remember that pitch is not static but based on emotion and intention. I’m gOING TO Go to the market is different from I’m going to go to the MARKET, because in the first example the speaker is indicating their intention to “go” as being more important than the rest of the sentence, while in the second example the “market” is more important in the speaker’s mind, as he or she is less concerned with that actual travel. Listen to yourself speak English (recording), and then change your pitch to change the direction of your meaning. Observe a native speaker’s pitch and meditate on how his or her pitch is important to his or her particular meaning, whereas a different pitch would indicate a change in meaning.
GRAMMAR: Structural comparison
Write out an original dialogue to speak, and then analyze the structure you wrote. How does your internal grammar compare with a native speaker’s dialogue or speech? What do you need to change in your personal grammar so that you are using correct forms? Make a list of problems in your grammar (differences from a native speaker) and then work through each by practicing re-writing your original dialogue using the correct forms. Then orally review your corrected dialogue and record yourself; when you are finished, record yourself speaking the native speaker’s dialogue, and compare and contrast your original (corrected) dialogue with the native speaker’s dialogue.
VOCABULARY: Favorite words
Keep a list of your favorite words in the English language, and begin the process of working those words into your speaking ability by using them either in quiet repetition or actual discussion. You will only enjoy speaking English when you enjoy the words you are speaking. Pay attention to sound, especially, and choose words that you not only enjoy thinking about but listening to. Incorporate those words into your speaking discipline, and practice using those words alongside the words from previous suggestions (popularly used English and ideas/things that come natural to you during your day).
Add adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions to your internal dialogue of English. Instead of “I feel happy because I ate a sandwich,” think “I feel strangely happy because I ate a roast beef sandwich,” or instead of “I feel sad today” think “I always feel disappointed on Thursdays after I wake up from the loud noise outside my window.” Listen carefully to your internal English voice: if you are using words that are too simplistic, add more complicated structures to your thoughts, and then practice saying those aloud.
Train yourself to speak vowels correctly. English speakers from different areas speak their vowels differently (The United States, Canada, Great Britain, Scotland, Ireland, India, etc.), so choose to focus on one style for the moment so as not to confuse yourself with the other styles. Once you master your vowels from one area, the other styles will be much easier to comprehend. Erase from your mind any lessons you learned about vowels from your studies of romanization (pinyin, romanji, etc.) and focus on pure mimicry. Speak words and phrases exactly like a native speaker; do not allow yourself any less than a perfect reflection of what you heard. Don’t worry for the moment about speaking in phrases and sentences, but only focus on the words you are using most of the time in your English (you need to be aware of these words, most importantly), and then master the words you speak most of the time.
PHRASING: Reduction of gaps
Choose a selection of random topics (you can use the Master IELT’s topic list, for example) and answer the questions, keeping in mind when you stop in the middle of a sentence where there are no punctuation marks (such as commas, semi-colons, or colons), as well as times when you say “um,” “uh,” or another kind of word used to pause. Pauses in sentences are natural; even native speakers have them, although their pauses are generally shorter, almost invisible to the listener. Instead of using a word to indicate a pause in your thought process, train yourself to say nothing. Once you have trained those words out of your natural speech, work in shortening the gaps/pauses in your sentences to half or even shorter. You can’t and shouldn’t attempt to eliminate your gaps, but make them so short that the listener isn’t bothered by the pauses.
GRAMMAR: Structural details
Keep a running journal each day where you write out your thoughts. As you are journaling, write in a style where you are speaking your thoughts to a person (for example, “Dear Diary…”), and then analyze your grammatical patterns over the course of a week or two. What kind of grammar do you prefer? Now, analyze a native speaker’s grammar and pinpoint preference. Does the native speaker prefer to use simple sentences or long sentences? Does the native speaker prefer to use action verbs or passive verbs (walk versus go, swallow versus eat, sip versus drink, etc.)? Does the native speaker prefer to describe things in detail or through inference (rough pavement versus street, angry voice versus upset, grumpy versus feeling bad, etc.)? Note your natural preferences, and then note specific patterns that need improvement.
VOCABULARY: Professional words
Enlarge your list of vocabulary words to a select number of professional words you need for your studies or for your work. While you may not use these words in everyday discussion, you will need to use these words in a professional capacity and therefore those words are profitable to your spoken English. Work on incorporating those words into discussions and speeches, and then practice those discussions and speeches with others. You do not need to speak to a native speaker to practice; start finding others who also have an interest in practicing English, and use each other as vehicles for improvement. Cut out a part of your day (10-15 minutes) to speak only in English with this other person, and use each other to practice implementing your vocabulary into daily speech.
FOCUS: Experiential dialogue
As you are walking or sitting, keep an internal dialogue of English in your mind (as long as it doesn’t deter you from your priorities). Focus on thinking with as much English as possible, and eliminating any other words from your mind except English words. When you are alone or by yourself, speak out loud to yourself and try to be as specific as possible. For example, “I am walking in the sunshine. There are cars everywhere, red cars, expensive cars, dark cars that are sitting under the overpass. A building across the street, a restaurant that has traditional food, I really enjoy eating traditional family dishes, maybe I should go there sometime with my friends. A gate on my right, the fence is rusted and broken, grass on the other side of the fence yellow and weak. I don’t know what I was thinking walking on this side of the road, I should walk over to the garden on the other side of the wall and I will enjoy my walk a lot more…”
CLARITY: Synthesis and mimicry
The key to mastering pronunciation is mimicry – that is, sounding exactly like a native speaker. Work on exacting your consonants and your vowels in words to sound exactly like a native speaker, by listening carefully to how the word, phrase, or sentence is spoken, and copying the sounds exactly. Do not accept even the slightest difference. Synthesize your ability to hear yourself, hear the differences, and your skill in consonants and vowels to create perfect words and phrases.
PHRASING: Elimination of repetition (“make it new”)
As you become more proficient in a language, certain words and phrases will become your “bread and butter” (so to speak); you will use these words and phrases often. While your ability to communicate may be strengthened, your ability to grow in communication will suffer. Identify words and phrases you use often and as you are practicing your spoken ability, when you want to use that word or phrase a second time, choose a different way to express that same thought. Use a different word or phrase, an analogy, or even a short story. The more you “make it new” the stronger your foundation becomes.
GRAMMAR: Elimination of pronoun, conjunction, article, and conjugative mistakes
The simplest mistakes in English are often associated with pronouns (he/ she), conjunctions (and/or), articles (a/an/the), and verb conjugations. While these are the easiest to identify, they can be the hardest to fix because of how they psychologically and culturally interact with the brain. Focus on fixing your pronoun, conjunction, article, and conjugative mistakes; practice speaking to another person or to yourself about a random topic, and listen carefully. When you make a mistake, repeat the sentence again but this time repeat the entire sentence with the correction. Do not only repeat the correction itself, but repeat the entire sentence, as most of the time our mistakes are couched in context. These four mistakes are the telltale signs of a second-language speaker, so if you can fix these four sets of mistakes you will be miles ahead of others who have never focused on fixing these issues.
VOCABULARY: Think and speak with complicated words
Instead of using simple words, try to use more complicated words in place, words that are more specific to your meaning. For example, instead of writing or saying, “I need to go to the library and study,” say “I need to walk to the university library to do some research for my thesis” or “I want to ride my bike to the library to look up books about the natural production of oxygen, because my paper is due in two weeks and my professor is being belligerent about my deadline.” Each time you use a simplistic sentence, repeat that sentence using more details, more expressive vocabulary, and more professional words that leave your listener with no question as to what you are doing. Exercise moderation, however: say exactly what you mean, and mean what you say; get to the point, and make your point in a classy, intelligent way.
FOCUS: Improvisational topical elaboration
Free yourself from any restriction in language. Take a topic (for example, the government’s relationship with the environment) and begin a timed practice session. Record yourself and don’t stop for anything until your timer runs out. Try to talk as much as possible without stopping about the subject. Once you are finished, listen to what you said, write down the most significant points, and then repeat the process this time taking a different route than before, while trying to hit the same points in a more direct way. (For example, if in your first recording you talked about government regulation of the environment, in your second recording talk about specific policies the government can put into place, and in your third recording talk about how those policies will specifically impact various industries and improve their local communities.) For each topic, record yourself three times, and try to get more specific with each recording, but do not use notes. Continue to practice this until you are confident of your ability to specify and elaborate through repeat practice. Always make sure to stick to the timer.
CLARITY: Recognition and elimination of dialect
All second or foreign language speakers of English use an accent when speaking English. Some dialects (collections of accents) are more distinct, but all dialects are different depending on where you are from and your basic association of sound with letter. Identify other dialects and analyze the differences between those and the standard of English you chose to study, and then compare and contrast those accents with your own. Your accent will be very natural – when you speak without thinking, you will say words and phrases in a certain way. Learn to distinguish your own, and then eliminate the differences in your voice by substituting “a native English accent.” Keep a chart of the differences and then each day record yourself repeating that same phrase several times until you have eliminated your dialect.
Listen to a native English speaker read through a passage or speech, and time how long they take from the beginning of one sentence to the next sentence. Attempt to match their speed word for word. Don’t worry about pronunciation right now; focus on controlling your breath so that you are speaking a single sentence in only one or two breaths, breathing only after commas or periods.
GRAMMAR: Awareness of form
Identify grammatical forms and structures when others speak English, specifically native English speakers. Note the locations of subjects, verbs, objects, and the conjugative forms of verbs. Note the past, present, and future tenses of the sentences, note the use of adjectives, adverbs, and the use of idioms. Keep a mental reminder of where words go in a sentence when spoken by a native English speaker, and train yourself to either visualize or categorize the sentences you are hearing in your mind. You may need to listen again and again to the same passage sometimes, until you have trained yourself to start making sense of the sentences, especially as some speakers will speak too quickly to visualize on the first listen.
While the ability to use complicated words becomes more important the higher your fluency grows, your ability to listen to the words of other speakers and interpret those words is even more important. Paraphrasing is the skill of interpretation: not an easy skill but a required skill in the art of listening and translation of meaning. Paraphrasing is best learned through disciplined practice. Make a habit of listening to others speak and reframing their words in your own meaning, either in silent thought to yourself or in spoken reflection to them. Your grasp of vocabulary is stretched to the greatest extent in paraphrasing, as you must be aware of what the speaker is saying as well as your own personal response.
For example, if a speaker says, “Yesterday I went to the bank, deposited some money, then went to the market and bought some chicken for lunch, but I didn’t have enough money so I had to go back to the bank and take out some cash. I saw it was late though, so I had to run back to my dorm to finish my homework, because class was at 1pm and I hadn’t finished my paper. I finished, but I don’t think it was very good, and then because I rushed home, I forgot all about my chicken and it got cold. When I finally got home, I found out my roommate ate the chicken, but I wasn’t really upset because it was cold anyways.” Your paraphrase could be: “David was hungry so he bought his dinner at the market. However, he stupidly forgot to finish his homework, so he had to forgo dinner and run to class. When he came home, he discovered to his surprise that his dinner had been eaten. He wasn’t angry though.”
FOCUS: Extrapolate causal relationships
As people, we are constantly thinking in terms of causal reality. Why does he love her? Why did she get a low score on her exam? What caused the flood, and why did the house lose electricity even though the generator was working? However, we most commonly explore these casual realities through our “heart language”, our first language. The key to unlocking your potential for specificity in abstraction (focus) is to begin to process your thoughts in English rather than your heart language. Speaking on a topic for a limited set time or even being able to elaborate in detail in a foreign language is one skill, but being able to process ideas and causal relationships in English is quite another. Because native speakers possess this ability, they are able to build a foundation in language which allows them to move in many directions and be more flexible than a non-native speaker.
As you are walking or sitting, constantly assess the environment around you in English. You can do this in your mind, on paper, or even when talking with a friend in English. If you hear yourself speaking in your heart language, stop, and rephrase in English, using words as detailed as you can muster. Embrace your inner voice of English, and put your heart language is a box, only allowing it out when you are finished with your practice. Practice often, and focus on deeper thoughts. Why is he looking at her that way? Where are those cars coming from? What is inside this coffee that makes it taste this way? Consider the implications of the things around you, even if you don’t normally think this way, and use this exercise as a way to strengthen your inner voice of English.
CLARITY: Mindfulness above association
Practice speaking English without thinking about what you are going to say. Clear your mind of any barriers you may have developed (grammatical rules, pronunciation styles, and criticism from former teachers and peers) and focus only on meaning. Hear the words coming out of your mouth in conjunction with your meaning, and be mindful of the impact those words are having on the deeper implications of your meaning. The words should be a natural growth of your mind and your heart; language can only become a part of you when you let go of your reluctance to only use it as a tool. Language must become a part of you, and you must give up your fear in order to move forward and grow stronger in your expertise. When you are speaking, the words that come out of your mouth must have a life outside of their syntax, but be connected with you on a deep level.
PHRASING: Breath control
The English language is unique among world languages in the importance of consonants to understanding. Without the proper emphasis of consonants, English is unintelligible and guttural, but with the proper emphasis and control, English is a simple and direct language. However, the large amount of consonants in English require a lot of breath. The first step to proper breath control is lengthening the amount of time you can actually speak, through daily practice of longer and longer intervals of holding your breath and speaking. However, length is only one part; the second part of breath control is using the right amount of breath for a given consonant or word. Listen carefully to well-spoken native English speakers and observe the consonants of import and the words they accentuate; also listen to what they do not stress and where they use or save breath. Breath is the blood of language, so your ability to channel that blood will indicate what kind of life your language has… or doesn’t have.
GRAMMAR: Self-awareness of form
Listen to yourself as you are speaking, and note the grammatical structures you are using. Note your mistakes, your bad habits, and your sloppy grammar, and work to correct those mistakes, establish good habits, and sharpen your grammar. When you express an idea with incorrect grammar, finish the sentence and then repeat the sentence with correction; do this until the correct structure is second nature to you. As you correct yourself more and become more aware of your own structural failures, through the process of correction you will make mistakes less. Do not depend on a native English speaker or teacher to correct you, but if they do correct you stop and repeat the entire sentence using the corrected forms.
Once a bad habit is established, that habit takes time to correct, so don’t be impatient with yourself if you continue to make the same mistakes. Be patient with yourself, diligent, and unflinching. While many native English speakers may have incorrect grammar, they will not make the same mistakes as you will make, and your mistakes (unlike theirs) will shout out loudly to others about your non-nativeness English and your sloppy mistakes. You will make mistakes, but the magic to correction is not to stay silent until you are sure of the correct structure, but rather to make the mistake, recognize the mistake, and correct yourself out loud. The small amount of embarrassment you will receive for correcting yourself will save yourself the years of embarrassment you will receive if you stay silent and expect your brain to somehow connect magically with your mouth while it is shut.
VOCABULARY: Recognition of idioms
Every language contains a huge amount of phrases that make little sense outside of historical, cultural, and environmental context. These phrases are known as idioms and exist outside of the normal boundaries of vocabulary words. For example, when an American says, “Batter up!” he means to get ready to take action, because in the American sport of baseball the batter is the player who hits the ball into the field and starts the game. Before you can use idioms yourself though, you need to recognize them when they are used. There are many resources of idioms, including books, articles, and websites which are helpful for recognizing and understanding idioms. American TV shows are also excellent sources for idioms in-action (although movies are generally not because the artistic quality in many films removes idioms in exchange for more thoughtful dialogue, with an exception for comedies and family dramas). ESL teachers are not a good source for idioms in-action as they tend to use simplified forms of English for the purposes of understanding, but regular families and native speakers are also excellent sources of idioms.
Recognize when idioms are spoken (under what circumstances), how often they are used, and regarding what. Most idioms are contextual (rarely used outside of particular circumstances) so pay attention and make a mental note in your brain. Idioms can be frustrating to master, so be patient with yourself. Work at mastering idioms until you can listen to a conversation in English without wondering why a particular idiom was used.
FOCUS: Express opinion through metaphor
Native English speakers have the ability to express their opinions through metaphors and similes. For example, a native English speaker would say, “I don’t care about him. He can go throw himself in a gutter for all I care,” or a native English speaker might say, “I’m really late for work. It’s like I’m flying by the seat of my pants, but I still can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Metaphor is a language, and to master English you must master the metaphor. English is a language rich in metaphorical meaning, but metaphors in English almost always are connected with action. Whereas in some languages (such as Chinese) metaphors are embedded in the very words themselves, in English metaphors must be molded and painted in bright colors, and then brought to life by being attached to a particular event, person, or context.
Firstly, listen to how native speakers utilize metaphor in their daily conversations. Metaphor is linked heavily with context, and to some degree is also linked with personality (one’s man’s metaphor is another man’s nonsense), so pay attention to how words and examples are used from person to person. How do you think? What examples come to your mind? Figure out how to express those in English, and try to connect your examples with current standard metaphors that are commonly used. Don’t overuse them, but make sure you are using them. Appropriately, of course.
CLARITY: Speech alteration
Train yourself to actively use other English dialects and accented words and phrases. Broaden your scope from the standard you learned, and explore different ways of speaking words, from British styles to Australian, from American to Canadian. For fun, try to slip back into the standard Chinese accent in speaking English, but this time fully aware of what you are doing, able to slip back into your standard English any time you want. Learn Indian accents, German accents, and take a ride through the world. The more you learn and can recognize, the more power you will have over your own speech.
PHRASING: Communication over style
Style is important when speaking, but style is only the beginning of mastery. True mastery of language happens when you make communication the most important aspect of your language and you disregard the style you have so faithfully mastered. In language, the only correct way of speaking is comprehension. If your listener cannot comprehend what you are saying, or can only comprehend that you have style then you will never be able to eclipse your ability to that of a native speaker’s level.
Style needs to become a part of you, but because it is a part of you, it will also change. You must be willing to allow your self-defined style to be destroyed, as you endeavor to challenge yourself in being more and more understood. You will always sound stilted and isolated if you are obsessed with how you sound over what you are trying to say. Once your language is in a place where you are comfortable, you must begin to lessen the bonds between your habits, and instead focus on answering the question, “Did I say what I needed to say not to the best of my ability, but to my exact meaning?” Don’t worry; your style isn’t going anywhere but up, unless you put too much weight on it and end up drowning.
GRAMMAR: Native cohesion
When grammar is correct, there is a certain beauty to it, like a finished painting or a box that once opened, is then closed. There is finality to the structure; when a native speaker of English speaks, that cohesion of grammar is clearly apparent. They are confident of their grammar, and they speak without hesitation. To develop the ability to speak without hesitation requires confidence in your abilities in that language, most easily gained through practice. Take opportunities to practice speaking at every turn, regulate and differentiate your grammatical structures, use simple forms, use complicated forms, and use forms that are not often used but are correct nevertheless.
Develop confidence in your ability to speak correctly, and don’t apologize for your mistakes. Even native speakers make mistakes, but they don’t apologize for their mistakes; they continue on, confident of their ability to use grammar as a communication tool rather than as a crutch for speaking properly. Don’t be afraid to experiment with grammatical forms that are wrong, and observe the reactions of those forms on your listeners. Learn to distinguish what is acceptable versus what is unacceptable, moderate and change yourself so that you are in control of the conversation, instead of the conversation controlling you.
VOCABULARY: Ability to use idioms
Idioms should be used gently and with purpose. Idioms are wholly based on context, so using an idiom outside of context is met with a perplexing and confounding reaction, even among native speakers. For example, while a common idiom is “take your game to the next level” (indicating an encouragement to challenge yourself) if used in a situation that is not a game, this idiom can be met with scorn (for example, in a dating relationship); the best use of this idiom would be in a competitive environment, where they are obvious winners and losers.
Be careful with idioms, and don’t use them until you are sure the context is right. Using an idiom incorrectly will not make you any friends, and will most likely deter people from speaking with you, as idioms being based in culture, if used incorrectly showcase a cultural insensitivity. However, your ability to use idioms in English is absolutely necessary for native fluency. A native speaker is expected to not only understand idioms but respond in kind with the same type of idiom (although not necessarily the same idiom), and know when a certain idiom is appropriate or not appropriate, according to custom.
FOCUS: Explore subtext through story
Stories are detailed metaphors, linked with your reality, and told in such a way that the point of the story connects with the meaning you are trying to convey. They are complicated beasts, but the best way to understand them is to listen to how stories are used in conversations to convey another person’s meaning. Once you are comfortable with knowing what kinds of stories are appropriate (this varies, depending on the culture you are in, whether that is a family, a city, a state, or a nation), start exploring your own life to look for stories you can use in your English language.
However, stories come from the natural springs of our lives, and identifying your stories won’t better help you use them. Rather, once you have identified your stories, think about them often. Talk about them. Write about them. Make them a part of your English inner voice, and you will discover that you will begin to express your deep feelings using those stories as bridges to meaning that perhaps have even eluded you and you discover with surprise. You may end up discovering things about yourself that perhaps you have always wondered or have always feared, but the ultimate exposition of focus is your ability to express yourself through the example of your life and the life of others.