Here are some practical techniques that you can start to apply to sound more fluent without having to live, study or work in an English speaking country.
1. Express confidence using idiomatic expressions
Idiomatic expressions are perhaps one of the first few things most ESL learners want to understand as there is a deep-seated belief that idiomatic expressions will enhance your vocabulary and fluency. That belief is only partially true; it is the confidence and the enjoyment of applying idiomatic expressions in everyday English that truly makes learning more effectively.
ADVICE: Do not attempt to learn every single idiom as you’ll quickly become demotivated and frustrated. Instead, learn the most common used idioms.
2. Schwa sound
The schwa sound /ə/ in the phonetic chart is typically unstressed syllables. For instance, choc(o)late, mem(o)ry and so forth. It is considered the most common vowel sound in English phonetics.
ADVICE: Write down new keywords and underline where the schwa sound should be inserted and practice it on a daily basis with your tutor. Or, research online 'how to pronounce (insert word)'.
Elisions will put your listening skills to the test as they are considered to be one of the hardest skills to acquire among many students. Elisions are the omission of unstressed consonants, vowels or syllables, and are informal language used in casual English conversations. Typical examples of elisions include I'm in place of I am or let's in place of let us and often use an apostrophe to denote the omission of a letter or letters. Further, elisions can occur in rapid speech when an individual does not articulate every part of the word, such as in the usage of the word library, which is pronounced in rapid speech as /laibri/ with the whole syllable elided.
I’ve seen many advance students that solely rely on CDs produced by language institutes to learn English, but CDs are inadequate compared to actually listening to a real-life conversation in teaching you commonly used elisions.
ADVICE: Start to watch talk shows or radio programs and see how they naturally speak. Try to recognize their usage of unstressed words and practice it in a way that is ‘mimicking’ their accent and tonality. Experiment by recording your voice from day 1, and listen to it 2-4 weeks later. Then repeat the same process again. You’ll be surprised how different you sound and maybe be a little embarrassed, but that’s a good thing! Identifying your pronunciation mistakes will certainly give you the confidence you need to reach the next level.