Accuracy or Fluency?

The fear of making a mistake can stop you from speaking fluently.

Read on for four ways you can become more fluent – and sound more like a native speaker of English!

Are you worried that you’ll make a mistake when you speak English or that other people will think you’re stupid?

The fear of making a mistake will stop you from speaking fluently. If you’re too much of a perfectionist and aim to be always correct, it means that you  never take any risks when you speak. (So you never try out new words, for example.)

But it also means that you’ll hesitate and pause more – which of course, makes you less fluent.

Native speakers make mistakes all the time

But speaking a language naturally means you’ll make mistakes. After all, you probably make mistakes in your own language, and I certainly do in English! In fact, here are some of the things that native English speakers routinely do:

  • start a sentence with one subject, but change it half way through
  • forget the right word for the situation
  • get the pronunciation wrong
  • slip into “dialect” or non-standard English

Making mistakes is part of using a language. But it doesn’t matter. The important thing when we’re speaking with friends, family, our colleagues and bosses is that we communicate our message.

In some occasions, accuracy is more important than fluency. If you’re writing – and you need your message to be clear, or if you need to make a good impression, such as when you do an exam, then concentrate on the structure and accuracy.

Ways you can sound more like a native speaker

Here are four things that native English speakers do – and which you can copy – so that you speak more naturally.

1. Paraphrase
If you can’t remember or don’t know a word – or if it seems that the other person doesn’t understand you, say it in another way:

“It’s like / similar to …”
“You use it to…”

2. Use checking phrases
Native speakers use phrases like “Know what I mean?” all the time when they want to check the other person understands.

3. Listen
One of the best ways to improve your communication skills is to improve your listening skills. Listening closely to the other person means you’re paying greater attention to what they’re saying (so you’ll probably understand better).

But the other person will probably also focus more on you when you speak. Better focus means better communication.

So don’t try to multitask! When you speak to someone, give them your full attention.

4. Copy native speakers
When native speakers make a mistake, they don’t stop in horror. They do one of these two things:

  • keep going
  • go back to the beginning. If what you say is complicated or confusing, just start again. Say “Let me say that again” and then say it a second time in a simpler way.