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How to Improve your Speaking Beyond C2

C2 is often seen as the pinnacle of language learning. It is the highest level on the CEFR and by this level, you are able to do pretty much anything you want to in English. However, as any C2-level speaker knows, this doesn’t mean that you are perfect or that you know everything. It’s up to the individual to decide whether going beyond C2 is important. If you live in a non-English speaking country, C2 may well be enough to open doors and new possibilities. However, if you live in the UK or another place where English is the main language, you may get fed up with being asked where you are from all the time. And, of course, there is also personal satisfaction to be taken into account. Do you aspire to read Jane Austen’s novels in English or to take part on complex, formal discussions? If so, you may need to stretch yourself beyond C2. In this post, I’m going to talk about five areas that many C2-level English speakers could still improve on and share some tips on how you can make progress with these.

Idiomatic and colloquial Language A great deal of natural spoken language makes use of idiomatic and colloquial phrases and not knowing these can mark you out as a non-native speaker. Being familiar with these phrases is closely connected to being familiar with the culture and thinking of the native speakers, and of course colloquial language is also regional rather than being the same everywhere. A great way to pick up more idiomatic and colloquial language is through reading contemporary novels. You don’t need anything too sophisticated here, think about crime novels, romance stories or even teen fiction for older teens. Fillers and other noises

Different languages use different sounds to express things like surprise or pain. For example, in the UK we usually say ‘ow!’ for pain whereas in Israel it’s ‘aya!’. In addition, people from different countries may or may not use vocal noises to show that they are listening. English listeners tend to be very noisy with ‘mmm’, ‘aha’, and even phrases like ‘I see’ being used to show that we are paying attention. A good way to expose yourself to what native speakers are doing is through listening to natural conversations in English through podcasts and radio interviews or, even better, by taking part in conversations with native speakers and observing what they do. Contractions It’s very rare to find a non-native speaker who uses contractions to the extent that native speakers do. Again, this is an area that can make your speaking sound a little unnatural and formal. Phrases that use contractions such as ‘I’ll have seen him by them’ and ‘I’d never have thought of that’ are well worth practising! You can also pay attention to sections that you don’t understand in TED talks and YouTube videos – was the cause of not understanding the speaker’s use of contractions? Register Register is a very difficult area to get right and most English learners, unless they have spent time in an English-speaking environment, will tend to use more formal language. Being able to move from one register to another depending on the situation requires considerable familiarity with the culture. TV shows can help here (the difference between a formal TV debate and interviews with members of the public, for example) and a skilled teacher can help you become more sensitive to different situations and which register would be most suitable. Pronunciation If you are determined to become as native-speaker like as possible, you will need to work on your pronunciation. This is always an area that I feel most closely connects with the psychology of how we see ourselves as non-native speakers as it is the biggest clue to a listener that we are ‘a foreigner’. The extent to which this matters is completely personal and up to the individual. The CPE criteria for pronunciation ask that you are intelligible and that you can use features of English pronunciation such as stress to help you convey your meaning. In other words, at C2 you are not expected to have native-speaker like pronunciation. However, if you live abroad or if you work with native speakers, you may get annoyed when you are constantly quizzed on your origins! Completely eliminating your accent is a big challenge that requires a considerable amount of time and practice (and quite possibly the aid of an accent reduction coach), but it can be done. Watch a video about this.

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