Casual English can contain many confusing elements, including slang terms, regional language, and linguistic quirks like idioms. For non-native speakers, phrases like, “I love you to death,” or, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” can seem strange, which can add a bewildering or embarrassing element to the conversation.
Unfortunately, there are far too many of these quirks to learn them all, and they tend to change rather quickly. There are, however, several exercises that you can use to become more familiar with the nuances of English and to improve your conversational skills:
1. Participate in school groups
One of the most effective ways to improve your conversational skills in any language is to be surrounded by those individuals who are fluent. So, with that information in mind, why not join an extracurricular activity or student group that is comprised of international and native-born students?
Not only is this a great way to meet new people, but it will also provide you with an opportunity to regularly practice your conversational skills with a group that is casual, patient, and understanding.
2. Watch television
If the idea of joining an extracurricular activity or student group is daunting, you can turn to the Internet or the television to find a wide variety of programs in conversational English. Furthermore, television programs and Internet content are often designed for specific audiences, so you should have no problem locating different types of speech. For instance, try watching American news shows—these programs are generally fast-paced and involve diverse tones. They also feature multiple forms of communication that one typically learns through social interaction, rather than in books or classrooms.
3. Master nonverbal communication
Whatever the language, verbal communication is generally supplemented or enhanced by nonverbal communication like raising an eyebrow or rolling your eyes. Many of these nonverbal cues are culturally or socially specific, and they can give you a good sense of what the person is truly trying to say.
If you have practiced your conversational English with native speakers or watched conversations on television, you have likely seen many nonverbal cues already, which can help you begin practicing your own. Experiment with standing in front of a mirror and practicing conversational English with the addition of nonverbal cues. These can be particularly effective when communicating humor or emotion, and you will want them to look natural.
4. Read children’s books
Reading children’s books may seem like an insulting or silly way to improve your conversational English skills. However, when you consider that these books are often designed to familiarize young people with the nuances of a language, you may find that reading children’s books is one of the best ways to improve your conversational speaking skills.
In addition to teaching children grammar and sentence structure, children’s books may also introduce aspects of humor and other elements of English that can help them develop a fundamental understanding of the informal use of the language. While it might not be the most exciting material, this can still be a great way to improve and practice your conversational skills.
David White is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world's largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.