When you hear a song, you normally don’t think about every note in the song.
You just hear a melody (tune).
When you hear someone speaking English, you might think about each word they say.
But there’s an easier way to understand what they mean.
If you listen for English phrases—and know what they mean—you’ll understand English better than ever.
And that’s something to sing about (a reason to be happy)!
Why should you learn English phrases?
People use words, but they speak in phrases.
When you study a language, you often focus on learning one word at a time. And it’s important to know what individual (single) words mean.
However, learning whole phrases also has a lot of benefits (good effects) for English learners.
Know the meaning of the whole.
There’s a saying in English: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
This saying reminds us that when you combine (put together) more than one thing, you might get something different.
Think about what happens when you bake even the simplest food. When you put together flour, yeast, water and a little salt, you get bread or pizza dough.
In the same way, a phrase often means something different than the words that create it.
For example, take the phrase, “a piece of cake.”
A piece is a part of something. In this case, it’s a slice.
A cake is a sweet, baked food, usually made with flour and sugar.
Put these words together as “a piece of cake,” and you get a phrase that means “very easy.”
Understand spoken English better.
Learning common English phrases makes it so much easier to understand what you hear.
These are phrases that are used all the time (often). Keep your ears open (listen carefully) and you’ll hear them used a lot.
When you learn more English phrases, understanding spoken English will be easy as pie (very easy) for you.
Read English faster.
Phrases group several words together in a written text. When you start seeing phrases as a single unit, with a specific meaning, you’ll be able to read English faster.
Rather than having to take time to think about what each individual English word means, you’ll be able to group some of the words together in phrases as you read.
Since you’ll recognize (know) what the phrases mean, you can spend less time reading through a text—but you’ll understand what it means even better than if you just knew what each word meant.
Improve your English writing.
Even your English writing can improve as you learn more English phrases. It’ll become more natural, reflecting (looking like) how native English speakers would write.
If you work at an English-speaking company, knowing English phrases will help you function (work) better in your job. You’ll understand what others mean and be able to communicate more clearly, even when you’re using English for professionals instead of casual English.
Learn more about English-language culture.
Phrases in any language often include idioms and colorful language. These kinds of phrases might not make a lot of sense if you try to figure out what they mean word for word.
Once you learn a few phrases and what they mean, you can start to better understand how English speakers think about the world.
Speak like a native.
Imagine if you were listening to someone who’s learning your native language.
The learner might be perfectly understandable. They might use all of their words correctly (the right way). Still, they would speak your language differently than you do.
Fluent speakers simply know more words and phrases than learners. They have practiced for many months and years. They have used the language so much that they don’t have to think about how to say things.
Fluent speakers can use short phrases to say a lot. They can use the same phrases to mean different things.
A fluent speaker is like a master painter. Their speech is filled with lots of different colors, like a garden full of flowers. They can express (show) emotions and hint at meanings.
When you learn English phrases, you give yourself the tools to speak like a native.
When you use the same phrases as fluent speakers, they’ll feel more connected (linked) to you.
How can you practice English phrases?
There are many good reasons to learn English phrases. But, to become really fluent—to know these phrases well and use them the right way—you’re going to need practice.
Learn modern English phrases.
If you’re learning English from a textbook, you’re probably getting a firm foundation (base) for how to use the language.
The only problem is that language changes quickly.
A textbook written 10 years ago may not have the most current English phrases.
To learn modern English expressions, you’ll need all the latest sources.
Try reading blogs and magazine articles about topics that interest you.
Get an up-to-date English phrasebook with slang phrases and definitions.
As you learn new phrases, record them in a language journal. Write down what they mean and practice writing sentences with them.
Use fun English vocabulary apps.
When you’re first learning new phrases, it really helps to get feedback—to be told what you’re doing right or wrong.
Using an English vocabulary app can be a perfect way to practice with feedback.
You can practice as much as you want. You can make lots of mistakes, too, without fear of embarrassment (feeling foolish).
An English vocabulary app such as FluentU can help you learn English phrases in a very natural way, as they’re used in real conversations.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Instead of stilted (unnatural) dialogues from a textbook, FluentU opens up authentic English-language videos.
You’ll hear phrases that are used every day by fluent English speakers.
You’ll see facial expressions (the looks on people’s faces) and body language (clues to someone’s feelings based on the way they sit, stand or move) as people talk. These will help you understand meaning, too.
Everything that’s said in the videos will be written out in subtitles. You can tap on any phrase you don’t know to get its definition (meaning). Then, the FluentU app uses games and fun quizzes to help you understand and remember your new English phrases.
The app tracks (remembers) what you study, so you’re always learning new English phrases. It shows you new videos all the time—videos you’ll like, at just the right level for you. You’ll keep learning, step by step, as you get more and more fluent.
To start learning modern English phrases, try FluentU for free.
Listen to English conversations.
Watching videos can help you understand what people are saying because you can guess some meaning from the looks on their faces or the way they move.
Still, sometimes it can help to focus on one thing at a time, like the sound of voices and words.
Dialogues, radio broadcasts and podcasts give you the chance to just think about how English phrases sound.
What is the tone of the speaker’s voice when they use a certain phrase? Does their voice get louder or rise up at the end of the phrase?
Which words of the phrase are stressed (sound stronger)?
Does something in their tone make you think that they’re being sarcastic (meaning the opposite of what they’re saying)?
When you only listen to audio, you can pay more attention to how speakers change their voices when they use various English phrases.
Write simple English dialogues.
If you want to get more practice with your English phrases, it could be time for a little creative writing.
Creative writing means that you get to use your imagination (pretend), to dream, to think up something that isn’t real.
Pick a couple of names for your imaginary (pretend) characters, then write short, simple dialogues (talks) using the English phrases that you’re learning.
Once you have the dialogue written, act it out! Use silly voices. Have a good time with it.
If you can get a friend to act out your dialogue with you, that’s even better. That way, you can pretend you’re using the English phrases in a real-life conversation (talk).
Talk with an English language partner.
One of the best, most active ways to practice English phrases is by talking with a fluent English speaker.
But what do you do if you don’t live in an English-speaking country?
Thanks to the internet, this isn’t the problem it once was.
No matter where you are in the world, you can practice English speaking online.
With resources like Speaky or Tandem, you can find an English speaker to help you practice your English phrases. You can text each other or use a video chatting app, like Zoom, FaceTime or Skype, to hold virtual conversations (talks over the internet).
Which English phrases should you learn?
There are many ways to practice English phrases—like reading, writing, listening, talking and watching authentic videos.
Now, we’ll look at some of the most useful English phrases you can learn.
Begin with the basics.
We’ll start out with the most basic phrases, the ones you’ll use almost everywhere you go.
When you first learn to greet people in English, you might be taught to say “Hello” or “Good day.” Native speakers use many more English greetings when they see each other. These include “How’s it going?” and “Long time, no see.”
Native also use terms of endearment to greet their family and closest friends. Have a look at some of them in this awesome video from the FluentU English YouTube channel:
Before you go back to reading, remember to subscribe to FluentU’s English YouTube channel to learn a lot more phrases that will come in handy to improve your English in a fun and easy way.
After you’ve greeted people, you’ll need some more basic English phrases to continue the conversation. These phrases will help you learn people’s names and get other info that you need.
Casual English phrases go a little beyond basic English. Idioms and common slang phrases are part of the casual English you might use with friends—phrases like “couch potato” and “chatty Cathy” that seem to make no sense.
When you find out what phrases like these mean, you’ll understand a lot more of what you hear in English.
Phrases to avoid
Sometimes, you’ll learn English phrases that you don’t hear in everyday English. These are phrases like “Hello. How are you?” They’re very plain and formal—textbook phrases that native English speakers rarely use.
And then, there are phrases people say wrong—mistaken phrases like “I could care less” or “on accident.”
Sure, you’ll hear native English speakers say them sometimes. But they really shouldn’t.
And neither should you.
Polite and positive phrases
It never hurts to have good manners. Most people like it when others are polite.
First of all, you should know how to introduce yourself in English, so you always make a good impression (give people a positive idea of who you are).
Learning a few different ways to say thank you in English will come in handy (be useful).
When you do something nice for someone else, it’s your turn to be thanked. In those moments, it’s important to know how to say “you’re welcome” politely.
Speak English around the world.
English is spoken all over the globe, in many different countries. When you travel and visit different parts of the English-speaking world, these special phrases will make your trip go smoothly and help you talk easily with the people you meet.
For everything from getting a hotel room to eating at a restaurant, English travel phrases will get you where you want to go.
Phrases from specific English-speaking places
If you’re visiting the United Kingdom—England, Scotland, Wales and parts of Ireland—British expressions like “innit” (isn’t it) and “pea-souper” (a thick fog) will help you understand the locals.
If you’re in Johannesburg or Cape Town and you hear South African English phrases like “let’s chow” or “I want a sarmie,” you need to know that it’s time to eat.
In the Land Down Under, Australian English phrases like “fair dinkum” (it’s true) or “heaps good” (very good) could confuse you.
People in the United States have their own way of speaking English. American English sayings include proverbs (wise sayings) like “There are plenty more fish in the sea,” which, believe it or not, can be used to comfort someone when a romance ends.
The United States is a pretty big country. People in some parts of it, like the group of states known as “the South,” use words and phrases rooted in local history.
If you were to travel to a state like Georgia or Alabama or Mississippi, you might hear Southern American English phrases like “hold your horses” (wait patiently) or “worn slap out” (very tired).
Phrases for talking about food
Wherever you travel in the English-speaking world, you’ll need phrases for talking about food in English. These phrases will help you tell people what you like to eat or how you like it cooked.
You’ll likely go to restaurants when you travel, so you’ll need to know how to order food in English.
Whether you love Starbucks or prefer (like better) Dunkin’ Donuts, knowing how to order coffee in English will keep you enjoying your favorite drinks.
Use everyday English.
Everyday English is usually what you’ll hear if you live in an English-speaking country—whether you’re working or going to school.
Phrases for talking about school
Whenever you’re talking to your teachers or other students, you might use English phrases about school. These phrases help when you’re talking about things like your class schedule (timetable), your homework or the subjects that you’re studying.
Phrases for talking about money
If you have a job, it means that you’re making money—which is great.
Knowing the right phrases for talking about money in English is very important. After all, you need money to pay for food, clothing and a place to live… and anything else you might want or need to buy.
You want to understand what others are saying about money. And you want to be clear when you talk to other people about money.
Phrases for talking about family
There’s a good chance you’ll need to talk about family in English at some point.
When people are getting to know you, they might ask you about your brothers, sisters, parents or other family members.
For instance, someone might ask you, “Do you take after your mother or your father?” It’d help to know that “to take after” means “to look like” or “to act like” so you can answer their question.
As your grasp (understanding) of English gets better, you’ll learn more complicated (harder-to-understand) phrases for saying what you’re thinking and feeling.
English has some very odd phrases. You can use funny English sayings like “pick your brain” to ask your co-worker for ideas. Or, you could tell someone to “take a chill pill” if you feel like they’re rushing you.
Phrases for speaking your mind
When you’re expressing your opinion in English, you normally want to be careful not to get people upset—even if you don’t agree with them.
That’s why you’ll say a phrase like “in my experience” or “if you ask me” before you tell people what you think about something. It’s a way to soften your words, so people can disagree and still be polite.
Phrases for talking about feelings
When you get even better at speaking English, you’ll be “pumped up” (excited) and “flying high” (really happy).
And you can use advanced English phrases to tell people all about your feelings—even if one day, you feel “down in the dumps” (hopeless, unhappy).
Phrases for “I love you” in English
Perhaps the best feeling you’ll ever get to talk about is love.
Be prepared (ready) for those happy moments: Learn phrases for saying “I love you” in English.
You can also use special English phrases to tell your loved one how much you miss them or how much you care.
Enjoy special times.
The English language has phrases to help you enjoy special times—seasons of the year, like winter and summer, or holidays like New Year’s or Christmas.
Phrases for seasons of the year
People commonly discuss the time of year and the weather.
Talk about days of sunshine and flowers with spring and summer English phrases.
Bundle up (dress warmly and stay warm) when you use winter phrases to talk about ice and snow.
On the last day of December, you’ll need New Year’s vocabulary to get ready for a brand new year.
You’ll feel lucky in March if you know some St. Patrick’s Day sayings for the Irish holiday. After all, people all over the world like to have St. Patrick’s Day parties on March 17.
When next December comes, you can try some English Christmas phrases to greet family and friends.
The team at FluentU English created an awesome video that will help you get into the Christmas spirit by learning all kinds of English holiday vocabulary.
And the good news is that FluentU’s English YouTube channel is full of videos like this that will teach you English phrases and expressions people use in real life. Subscribe, hit the notification bell and get a step closer to talking like a native speaker!
English phrases can be like music to your ears (good news). Because, as you learn them, they make English easier and easier to understand.
Michelle Baumgartner is a language nerd who has formally studied seven languages and informally dabbled in a few others. In addition to geeking out over slender vowels, interrogative particles, and phonemes, Michelle is a content writer and education blogger. Find out more at StellaWriting.com.
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