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I've been learning English for many years already, using many ways available for me. It is mostly reading, as I have very few opportunities to use English in real communication. Due to this fact my vocabulary is rather one-sided: I can read fast and without problems but to find out the proper word in real conversation is really hard for me. My live expressions are full of book-learned words and phrases. I guess I often use formal and archaic words instead of simple spoken ones. I simply don't feel the difference between them as a native speaker does.

Are there any online resources that could help find out the most appropriate words for the contemporary usage, helping to sound less artificial, formal and archaic? Or, maybe, other advices for the learners like me?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The only way that you can learn contemporary informal usage is the same way that you learned the formal, bookish language: constant exposure. In other words, find someone(s) you can talk to a lot, who will help you with your language and expose you to more modern idioms.

The other thing that might help is watching television, particularly sitcoms, talk shows and other informal formats. Avoid imitating news shows, documentaries and the like, since they tend to use a much more formal register than is common in everyday speech. (And don't mimic sitcoms too closely, lest you start talking solely in catch-phrases and cliches.)

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Back in the day I would have recommended that the OP go to a chat room to practice his English; but considering the current state of affairs, I'd imagine it would be counterproductive. As for TV/movies, it can be overdone; always take things with a grain (a sack?) of salt! –  user730 Aug 23 '10 at 17:06

The best way to sound natural and native is to learn some non-formal/informal expressions and phrasal verbs.

3 useful resources for ya:


-The book "A year in the life of an ESL student" is also quite useful.

-Books. From my experience I can say that Stephen King's books usually contain a lot of phrasal verbs.

I'm thinking of compiling a list myself...

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If most of your opportunity to be exposed to English is by reading, then you may want to find some books which are aimed at younger readers, say 10 - 14 years old, published somewhat recently. These will generally have a simpler, more conversational vocabulary.

Although JSBangs advises against watching the news in English, I would recommend reading the news in English. While I can't speak for all English-language newspapers, I do know that newspapers in the US attempt to keep the vocabulary to about a 5th grade level, which equates to a normal 10 year old being able to read it without much difficulty. As an added bonus, many newspapers can be read over the Internet.

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