How to Learn Conversational English

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After studying English for several years, many learners find themselves unable to participate in a conversation in English. Sometimes this is because English lessons focus largely on grammar rules and memorization, and often the English in textbooks is quite different from the English people actually use. Even English learners living in English-speaking countries may find they lack opportunities to practice their English in casual, conversational settings. Learning natural conversational English usually takes extra work outside of the classroom and a conscious, focused effort.

  • English language books
  • English language magazines
  • English language newspapers
  • English language websites
  • English language films (with English subtitles)
  • English language TV (with English subtitles)
  • English speaking friends

1 Take advantage

Take advantage of every opportunity to practice speaking in class. Teachers often assign group and pair work during a lesson. Do the tasks with your partners in English, even if they're easier to complete in your native language. Try to practice new things you're learning, and don't rely on easy phrases from your first year of English study.

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2 Attend conversation lessons

Attend conversation lessons if your school offers them. Many language schools have "conversation clubs" for students to practice speaking. Some conversation clubs are open practice, where the teacher gives the students topics to discuss. In other conversation classes, the teacher might introduce new vocabulary or useful idioms or phrases and give the students an opportunity to practice in an informal setting.

Form a conversation group with friends from your class. Meet regularly somewhere relaxed like a bar, café, or someone's home. Decide in advance what you will talk about--for example, current events, hobbies and interests, relationships, or other topics the group shares and interest in.

Practice outside of class as much as you can. Reading English in books, magazines, newspapers and on the Internet helps your conversational skills because you learn vocabulary, idioms, and phrases that people use in real life. If you don't understand something you've read, ask a teacher or English speaker to explain it to you.

Watch films and television in English. If possible, watch with English subtitles. Often learners find rapid spoken English easier to understand if they can read it at the same time. Make notes of things you don't understand to ask a teacher or English speaker about.

Make friends with native English speakers or with people who speak English but don't speak your first language. Practice feels less like work when it's amongst friends, and you can do other enjoyable activities while using English.

Spend time listening to native speakers, and try to imitate their rhythm and intonation as well as the words they use.

Practice English with students who are more advanced than you. Often people who speak your first language can explain things better than a native speaker, and advanced English speakers are familiar with the difficulties you might be having earlier on in the learning process.

Work on speaking even if you feel silly or embarrassed. Eventually, you'll get over most of your fears, and the more you practice, the easier it will become to use what you've learned and learn new things.