How to Think Quickly in Everyday Speech When Talking in English (To Impress Even You)

Quick adjective (kwik)

  1. Done or happening in a short amount of time
  2. Fast in thinking, learning or understanding
  3. Fast in moving or reacting

Source:  Merriam-Webster online dictionary

Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you [can think quickly and choose the best words to convey thoughts] Jim Rohn, author and motivational speaker

Recently a student asked me about how to think quickly in everyday speech, to use the more difficult vocabulary words that they know, and to be able to apply these to conversational speech. It’s an interesting question about language fluency. Worth investigating. Worth thinking about. So I set out to do just that. You know, some investigating. You know, some thinking. I researched ways to increase vocabulary. I looked at suggestions of how to speak quickly. I asked lots of former students and ESL teachers their opinions. I did a lot of listening. Let me share some of what I learned. You know, in my investigating. And in my thinking. About language fluency. About ways to increase language perfection.  If you are a native-speaker and you have years of practice in speaking a language, you don’t think too much about speaking the actual words. You just say the words rather naturally. But if you are delivering a more formal presentation, then you will undoubtedly spend more time on selecting the words to use, practicing your speech, etc. It may even be hard for you to remember what you wrote, what you want to say, what words to use, etc.

So how can a non-native speaker learn to retrieve those words (he/she wants to use) more quickly in everyday speech? I have a few suggestions that might help.

  1. Practice, practice, practice

Talking - You can talk in your head or you can talk out loud. Whenever you have time, just talk. Don’t plan on what to say. Just talk.

Writing - You can write words down first in phrases and then in longer sentences, and then try paragraphs and essays. Again, don’t plan on what to write. Just write. Write as quickly as you can.

Thinking - You can find a buddy and have them ask you random questions. Your role is to answer them without thinking too much about what words you are going to use. Try to answer the open-ended questions completely and quickly.

Reviewing - You might consider taping any of these activities and listening to them. Then think of any other words (preferable longer, more difficult and richer) that you could use as substitutes. Reread with these longer words.

  1. Read as much as you can

Read a daily newspaper and highlight words you don’t use often or words you may not even use at all because of their length or difficulty. Look these up in a dictionary or thesaurus. Then read the sentence(s) again with these words and explain what they mean. Make a list of these new words and commit to a goal of some sort. Maybe on Mondays, you take one of the words and you use it throughout the week. Or maybe you decide to apply so many of these words each week. The secret is to make a conscious decision of developing your vocabulary and focusing on applying these new word(s) in your everyday speech so you think of them and use them quickly.

Example: USA Today 11/1/13 Lay’s Latest Chip is Sweet New for Chocoholics by Bruce Horovitz

Sentence: For Lay’s, it’s all about growing beyond the constraints of the salty snack. Meaning: confines, limits

Read other materials:  books and magazines, pamphlets, everything! Again, if you are unfamiliar with a word or you want to add that word to your daily repertoire, make a list and keep reviewing those words. Put them on notecards to carry with you to practice or mount them somewhere in your house so you can see them often to trigger you to use them.

  1. Listen to other speakers

How do others use vocabulary? Listen to everyday speech patterns on television, at the movies, in restaurants, at work or school, on the bus, etc. Gather some phrases and words for you to try. Commit these to memory. Try to remember the context clues in which you heard the word(s). Imitate these. Try to repeat using this vocabulary until the words and phrases are more natural. Continue to add more vocabulary from your listening experiences.

  1. Think in phrases and chunking

Try to read and speak in chunks… i.e. a combination of words rather than one word at a time. This will help with the recall of what you intend to say. You can embed a harder/longer word in a simple phrase or a common phrase so you are more apt to use it.Examples:  attain elite workplace wellness; growing by leaps and bounds

  1. Plan ahead

You could plan out a sentence or a few sentences to say. Then when you go to an activity (i.e. shopping, public transit, your class, a business meeting, a social function like a party, etc.) you can say these practiced sentences that you have memorized. Use them over and over again. Continue to add more sentences to use in different settings. Again, plan ahead. Anticipate some of the activities that will consume you time today, this week, this month, etc. Then devote some preparation time to plan what you can say.

  1. Create vocabulary tables

First, select a category of words that you want to expand for whatever reason. For example, musical words. Maybe you like music. Maybe you don’t know too many musical words. Maybe your coursework or your business demands that you know more about this field. Maybe your friend likes music and you would like to talk more to him/her about it.Next, write down the category and think of words that deal with this category. Include a column for each part of speech: nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Now fill in your chart.Use a dictionary and thesaurus to expand your word searches. Look up any words that you don’t know.Put the chart somewhere that you frequently can see it to practice these words, especially the new ones or ones that you think you can use.Begin to incorporate some of these words into your everyday conversation.When you feel that you have made progress, repeat the activity with another category.Continue to review previous charts so your vocabulary enlarges and you have committed these new words to memory and use.

Example: Music (Vocabulary Table)

Nouns                         Verbs                          Adjectives                  Adverbs

Notes                          Composing                  Orchestral                   Softly

Guitar                          Performing                  Choral                         Loudly

Piano                           Directing                     Instumental                 Musically

Instruments                 Harmonizing               Acoustic                      Harmoniously

Strings                         Swinging                    Brass                           Rhythmically

Conductor                                                      Dramatic

Orchestra                                                       Melodic

  1. Play word games and word puzzles

Many word games and word puzzles can stretch the vocabulary you need and help to develop quick thinking. There are various books/games you can buy at the grocery store, toy store, learning shop, or book store for all level learners. Try a word search, crossword puzzle, or ad lib book. When you work on these, try to work as quickly as possible so your brain is more accustomed to thinking quickly. Gradually add harder materials. You can also play some traditional word games like Scrabble, Pictionary, and Hangman to get you thinking more quickly. There are many resources online to help you learn English. Check out some of these and find something that works for you to develop faster thinking and a quicker application of the vocabulary you want to use.

  1. Find a English-conversational partner

Practice speaking every day with an English-speaking partner. Talk about all sorts of things. Again, bring your word lists and your dictionary with you. If you can’t always meet in person, chat on the phone. Have a list of words that you must use before the conversational time is completed.

  1. Join discussion groups

Maybe there are some chat rooms you can join or a book discussion club or some activity that relates to a hobby that you like. Try to attend and use your English in this setting. Sometimes talking about things that interest you or when speaking in an environment that is less threatening and more casual helps you to be more confident. Try to think quickly and have a list of words/phrases you intend to practice.

Having the ability to speak quickly is a skill that many people don’t really think about. At least not often, I presume. We take the skill for granted. However, it is much harder for a non-native speaker to improve in this area and even master it. But the topic is worth investigating. It is worth thinking about. Language fluency increases language fluency. So the more you talk, the easier it gets. Research supports the fact that parents who are talkative have articulate children. And children who are articulate have wider vocabulary and more ease in speaking. So be talkative. Acquire articulation. You will talk more quickly and you will be more able to add the words/phrases you have practiced and commit these to memory and everyday conversation.

Remain patient but persistent is a good motto to follow. Continue to study. Maybe by yourself, with a friend, hire a tutor, study with an online English class, or take a class. Everything you do will help. Remember the words of Jim Rohn:

Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you [can think quickly and choose the best words to convey thoughts].

Quick. Done or happening in a short amount of time. YOU CAN DO IT.

Quick. Fast in thinking, learning or understanding. YOU CAN DO IT.

Quick. Fast in moving or reacting. YOU CAN DO IT.

Remember, too, that the race horse, the greyhound, the marathon runner trains and desires to win. There are plans and goals along the way and benchmarks to reach. Positive reinforcement is provided and then a goal after a considerable length of time is reached. You can reach your goal of language speaking, too. It is worth investigating. It is worth thinking about.


Please write to me using the comments section below and let me know if any of these suggestions were helpful. Tell me what works for you. Share your progress. And if there is anything I can help you with along the way to thinking and speaking more quickly and with the vocabulary you want to use, write to me in the comment suggestion below. I am confident that YOU CAN DO IT. Take one step at a time and you will get there. It’s definitely worth investigating. It’s definitely worth thinking about.

Posts you may also like