One Way You Can Attain English Fluency
Once you’ve made the decision to learn a second language, you might find yourself attending language exchanges, listening to podcasts, or reading anything you can get your hands on. The truth is, however, that hours of self-study with the best materials can only get you so far. There is a fine line that divides highly advanced learners from native speakers. Attaining fluency is not an impossible goal. The key to fluency is grasping the nuances of English and to put your newly acquired knowledge into daily practice.
The two main aspects of fluency, for me, are grammar and tone. First, grammar is vital to a language because it forms the core structure of our verbal and written speech. It is not surprising that most English learners have a solid understanding of grammar, because school curriculums heavily focus on it. Additionally, it is easier to find resources to study grammar.
It is more difficult, however, to obtain good quality resources to practice speaking. That being said, grammar sometimes prevent learners from speaking freely. When worried about choosing the right tense or word, learners will hesitate for a long time or remain silent entirely. It is crucial to remember that once you start talking in English, the grammar will naturally follow. The more that you talk, the more confident you will become with English, thereby increasing your chances to improve your language level.
Secondly, even if you might not be confident about your grammar, but having a strong command of tone (when speaking) will indicate to others that you possess a good level of English. Similar to other languages, English is dictated by your portrayal of a sentence. The context and tone that you select ultimately conveys what you want to express to another person.
Importance of tone
Most of us forget the power of tone because it is a piece of cake to generate all of the reasons why grammar is important instead. As tone is a simple concept, it is often overlooked.
Your familiarity of tone is a measure of how well you comprehend the intricacies of English. There are many types of tones: angry, excited, happy, hungry, sad, stressed, or worried. The tone that you choose to convey a certain English word decides your next course of action. For instance, if you are hungry, you might speak in a weak tone, thereby indicating your next course of action is to find food.
In another example, let’s say you are at a birthday party and the host repeatedly offers you ice cream cake six times. You want to adamantly refuse because you do not like ice cream, you are lactose-intolerant, and because she has asked you too many times...
- Host: Would you like some ice cream? Everyone loves ice cream!
- You: No thanks; I actually do not like ice cream very much.
While internally you are reeling at the thought of how much you hate ice cream, you have chosen a polite tone out of respect for the host. If you had gone with a more aggressive tone, it would’ve caused the host to be hurt or shocked.
Let’s consider another scenario, where you are at work. As the manager of a 12-member team, you will give feedback on everyone’s performance based on a recent project. Although the words that you say are important, ultimately the tone that you choose will determine the consequences of how your employees perceive your speech.
- You: Good work, team. Let’s keep it up.
Clearly, the phrase is positive, but your tone will be the deciding factor of how the team will interpret it. If you say the above words in a cheerful, energetic, happy, or uplifting tone, there will be no doubt that the team will generally feel encouraged by you appreciating their work. But if you state the sentence in a bored, unenergetic, or obligated tone, the team might feel that you are delivering praise in an empty way. Tone matters in every situation.
Importance of sarcasm
Sarcasm is another type of tone. In the East Coast of the United States, sarcasm is exhibited through dry humor. Also known as deadpan or dry wit, this is when a person utters something funny but keeps a straight face. As the person’s facial expression does not change, it is sometimes hard to tell if a person is being sarcastic or serious.
To help explain sarcasm in a more realistic way, let’s examine sarcasm from scene in the TV show, Friends.
In the episode “The One With All The Haste”, (time: 1:01-1:11), Ross and Chandler have a conversation about Ross’ recent decision to ask his girlfriend to move in with him. It goes something like this:
- Ross: I can ask her to live with me.
- Chandler: Are you serious?
- Ross: Why not? I mean, why not?
- Chandler: Because you’ve only known her for six weeks! Ok? I’ve got a carton of milk in my refrigerator I’ve had a longer relationship with.
Furthermore, in the episode "The One with All the Resolutions", (time: 0:16-0:21), Ross announces his New Year’s resolutions to the gang. He says:
- Ross: I am going to be happy this year. I am going to make myself happy.
- Chandler: Do you want us to leave the room?
From these two examples, it is obvious that Chandler has a sarcastic personality. If Ross believed that Chandler had a relationship with a carton of milk, we would call him gullible. If you believe anything and fall for sarcastic remarks, then you may be a gullible person as well. Sarcasm is prevalent in the entirety of the show Friends, in daily life, and can be present in all contexts.
What you can do
The more you expose yourself to sarcasm and tone, the more comfortable you will be with the two concepts. Movies, television shows, and daily conversations will contain sarcasm on a regular basis.
Be aware of how important grammar is, but do not be afraid to open your mouth and talk!
Hero image by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash