Oleh: Asih Zunaidah, S.S., M.Li.
Have you ever observed how English native speakers or people that are good in English speak to each other? Have you really paid attention to the whole conversational process? If yes, you should be able to notice these things: their choice of words, their voice intonation, and their gesture or expressions. These three are essential in making their conversation looks fluent and natural.
First, let’s focus on the word choice. Those native or good English speakers do not always use sophisticated or super difficult words. They do not necessarily choose long word or sentences to express what they are trying to say. They choose their words based on what they really need to say (even though it is not always what they meant, i.e.: sarcasm or connotative). If you need to say ‘special’, and it is the only word coming up, then just say it. Don’t bother hurting yourself by looking for a more sophisticated synonym (‘extraordinary’, perhaps) to sound smart. Remember, you are having a simple day-to-day conversation not writing a poem. So, quit pressing on yourself. Too much thinking or hesitating will prevent you from speaking fluently.
The next thing you need to do is listening to their intonation. There is not a single good English speaker that make himself sounds like a machine. Humans have the ability to play with their voices through intonation. If you are a bilingual and are currently learning to speak English, you should try to sound natural in English as you do in your mother tongue. Intonation may vary in different languages and cultures. Therefore, to speak English naturally, you need to learn and listen to a native English speaker. If you like sounding posh like Emma Watson, learn the British accent and stick to it. If you like a more standard and a relatively easier-to-copy accent, you might want to listen to an American speaker (except those from Texas, they sound a bit different from the rest of the country). However, if you want to stick to your own and natural accent acquired from your mother tongue, feel free to do so, since the point is to sound natural, not to sound like a machine.
Lastly, a good communication skill in any languages require you to use appropriate gestures and expressions in a conversation. Using wrong body language will result in misunderstanding or conflict. Related to this, an English learner must make sure that he does not overdo or neglect using facial expressions, for instance. In the attempt to master a language, one must also learn its culture and the dos/ don’ts in speaking to a person of a certain country. To conclude, mastering grammar only is never enough to make you into a good English speaker.
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