What do you think is the fastest way to reach English fluency?
Is it the ‘bottom-up’ approach, where you learn all of the grammar rules and construct your sentences one word at a time? Or is it the ‘top-down’ method, where you acquire language just like you did as a child, using imitation and situations?
Truthfully, both methods are important!
In this article, I'll let you in on the secret to boosting your English fluency and sounding more natural in everyday conversations! Are you ready?
The big secret!
When it comes to learning a second language, it helps to know some basic phrases, so that you have something to build on as you continue to immerse yourself in the language.
Language learners at all levels can truly boost their fluency and communication skills through immersion and practising using functional language (or fixed phrases).
It may sound simple, but using functional language is a great, effective way to sound natural and professional, and to communicate clearly!
What is functional language?
In a nutshell, it’s exactly what it sounds like! It’s language which has a specific purpose. Functional language is actually the first language we learn as children.
'I want' or 'no!' are perfect examples of language essential to communicate our needs to our parents.
Funnily enough, functional language is what we first learn when beginning a second language too. We travel with our dictionaries and our translation apps, spouting out memorised phrases which help us to be polite in a new country and ask for what we want.
For example, while traveling in the last few years, I picked up these essential fixed phrases: 'Xin chào' and 'Sabaidi', (Hello) 'Comment allez-vous?' and 'Como estas?’ (How are you?), 'Terima kasih' and 'Cảm ơn' (Thank you).
As tourists, we learn these phrases as a unit, rather than one word at a time. Language teachers call this a ‘lexical chunk’. We don’t learn the individual grammar rules for the sentence, 'How are you doing today?'... It’s easier and more efficient to memorise it as one sentence.
When and why do we use functional language?
It turns out, functional language is incredibly useful in every classroom. It helps us to clarify when we don’t understand something, to work together to complete tasks, and to compare and contrast our ideas. It’s absolutely essential for English fluency!
Inside the Hey Lady! Community, we all come from different countries around the world. English is our common language, which means that every member of our online community is immersed in the language. We use English for hours each day. We use English to tell each other when we get stuck, when we don’t understand, or when we need someone to repeat themselves. These phrases are not only useful for Hey Lady! but are also essential for professional situations.
Below are some examples.
What to say when you don’t understand
We use Zoom to have massive video chats from 2-15 people in one conversation! Sometimes we can’t hear each other clearly because of audio problems or background noise. What functional language can we use in this situation?
- I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you. Can you repeat that?
- Can you repeat what you said?
- I didn’t catch that! Can you say that again?
- Your connection isn’t so stable. Could you say that again?
How to start a sentence over again
Even when we are speaking our native language, we sometimes get tongue-tied! It’s inevitable that we will sometimes mess up. Luckily there are some phrases we can use to reset 🙂
- Let me try that again.
- Actually, let me start over!
- Oops, let me start from the beginning.
How to keep the conversation going!
If we are unfamiliar with conversing online, we don’t quite know how to naturally keep the conversation going. One lady may share a really interesting idea, and we don’t know how or when to respond. These phrases are a great way to keep the conversation going.
- What do you think, ___________? (Always use someone’s name!)
- What about you, ______________?
- I completely agree with you, and…
- I see what you mean, but I don’t quite agree.
Functional language is the bridging language that helps to move from one idea to the next. It is absolutely the key to achieving English fluency.
How to practise functional language
One of the best parts of English is the fact that there are dozens of ways to say the same thing. For example, the phrase 'How are you?' could also be 'How are you doing?', 'How’s life?', or ‘How’s life been treating you?'
It’s almost impossible to remember all of these different functions! So, don’t worry if you can’t remember them all! Instead, choose one or two and practise with them. When you are comfortable, you can add in another.
In Hey Lady! we provide speaking workshops to help our newest ladies feel confident in online conversations. We give each lady a list full of functional language for each of our featured topics, to help them navigate all sorts of conversations!
Here is the advice I tell our ladies:
- Keep a list of phrases next to your computer and learn one phrase at a time
- Every time you use a phrase, put a checkmark next to it ☑️! It will help you to track your progress.
- When you are ready, add another phrase to your list!
What are some examples of functional language you can think of?
Do you have any functional language for agreeing or disagreeing? What about functional language for giving your opinion? I’d love to read some of your examples!