Center for Teaching and Learning

Strategies for enhancing English language fluency: General fluency

Below are general strategies that TAs can use on their own to improve their English language fluency.

Principles for enhancing fluency

Being fluent does not mean speaking quickly. It is better to speak slowly and clearly than quickly and incoherently. The ability to speak smoothly and fluently is the result of a number of factors. Some of the key factors include:

Thought groups

Think of language as a series of phrases instead of a series of words. Before you speak, pause and compose the next phrase that you’re going to say. After you’re finished with that phrase, pause again and think of the next phrase. You will sound much more fluent if you pause slightly longer and then produce fluent phrases than if you constantly pause for a half second before every word or two.

Linking

Native speakers of English typically link the ends and beginnings of many words together within a thought group. This makes their English sound “smooth.” To find out more about thought groups and linking, refer to Manual of American English Pronunciation.

Collocations (words that usually “belong” together in a thought)

Many words in English tend to be joined with other words. Certain verbs tend to go with certain nouns, etc. If you train yourself to recognize and learn collocations, your speech will flow more easily. See the full section on collocations.

Transition words and phrases

Phrases that signal that you are beginning a new topic, summarizing information, giving reasons, naming steps, etc. can also help you develop fluency. Some examples: “First of all…” “Second…” “And now onto the next topic…” “To illustrate…” “In summary…”

Filler phrases or hesitation devices

As you listen to native speakers, you may notice that they use “filler” phrases to varying degrees. These are phrases such as, “What I’m trying to say is…” “If you know what I mean…” “Let me think for a minute…” These phrases give speakers a small space to think before they express their next idea. Overall, try to keep a relaxed attitude. Worrying about correctness may lead to unnatural pauses.

Activities for enhancing fluency

Try “echoing” or “shadowing”

Find, for example, a radio announcer whose voice you find clear and easy to understand. Then echo while you’re listening to the radio program by repeating as much as you can (imitating rhythm, stress and intonation). For more information on echoing, see: “The Language Learning Technique of Shadowing” or “Shadowing Step by Step.”

Vary the focus of your practice

Sometimes you may want to just focus on general smoothness and comfort in speaking. Other times, you may want to focus on a particular aspect of fluency, such as one of the aspects suggested above.

Read a paragraph several times

Focus on fluency until it feels smooth.

Mark the groups of thoughts in a paragraph

Read the paragraph aloud, paying careful attention to groups of thoughts. Record yourself, listen to the recording, and re-record until you are satisfied with your fluency in reading.

Mark linked points

Mark points in individual sentences or a paragraph where words are linked and practice reading and recording the paragraph.

Read and summarize

Read a paragraph and try to summarize it in your own words. Record your summary and listen to it. Re-record until you are satisfied with the fluency of your summary.

Read a paragraph and note key collocations in the paragraph

Then try to summarize the paragraph making use of the key collocations that you wrote down. Record, listen and re-record.

Outline a process

Include key words and transition words and then expand on the outline. Record, listen and re-record your expansion of the outline until you are satisfied with it.

Record yourself giving a short talk

Then transcribe your talk. Revise the transcript (You may want to ask a native speaker for help with revision). Read the revised transcript aloud as fluently as you can. Finally record the talk again without looking at the revised transcript.

Practice completing grammar exercises orally

Using a grammar guide or book, do exercises as quickly and fluently as you can and record yourself. Listen and re-record until you are satisfied with the fluency of your sentences.