Learn Functional Language: Tips for English Fluency

When you imagine what English fluency looks like, you probably imagine being able to function with confidence in many different situations. 

For example, one of your goals might be to become fluent enough have an in-depth conversation with someone in English, and to be able to express your ideas, opinions, and even arguments without having to think too much.

Or one of your goals might be to speak naturally and freely during a conference call at work with English speakers from all around the world.

Or maybe you just want to be able to introduce yourself in English!

These are just a few examples of how we use “functional language” in English.

But what is functional language?

Functional language is composed of phrases and expressions that we use in specific situations. They’re essential for English fluency because they fit your individual needs, and they prepare you for the situations that you’re likely to face in the future.

And, that’s what we’re going to discuss in today’s post!

We’re especially going to focus on functional language that you can use in conversation or when you have to speak for a long time about a complicated topic, as you might for an English speaking exam, or a school or work presentation.

We’ll start by learning more about functional language. Then, we’ll discuss how we use functional language in English for: 

  • Putting information or events in order

  • Clarifying information

  • Summarizing information

  • Focusing on specific details

  • Showing an exception

Whether you’re preparing for an exam, presentation, or you just want to learn some new expressions in English, I think you’ll find this post helpful. So, let’s jump in!

Functional Language Tips for English Fluency

What is functional language?

We use the term functional language to talk about the specific words, phrases, and expressions that we use in a particular interaction.

It’s different from learning straightforward grammar or vocabulary. The goal of functional language is to help you learn specific phrases and expressions that you can use in situations at work, in travel, or when meeting new people.

That doesn’t mean that grammar and vocabulary aren’t also important. But usually, functional language takes the specific student’s needs into account.

To figure out what functional language you might need to learn, it helps to ask:

  • What specific things do I need to do or accomplish with English?

  • What is my lifestyle like?

  • What am I interested in?

  • What do I like to talk about?

  • What kinds of words, phrases, or expressions will help me thrive in a situation that I’m likely to encounter in the future?

So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at some different functional expressions you can use to express yourself and your ideas with confidence.

MORE: How Can I Express Myself More Precisely in English?

Putting information or events in order

We use certain phrases and expressions to put events in order of sequence and importance. So, for example, if you need to describe how something works in steps, you can use expressions to show how the steps work in a sequence.

But, if you’re expressing your opinion or views about something, you might want to express your main ideas in order of importance instead.

You might have learned expressions like firstly, secondly, lastly, or and then, but you might not know an expression to discuss things that are related to your main idea or how to explain things in more detail.

Expressions to put information in order of sequence

Here are some expressions that you can use to talk about a process or sequence of steps. Those will be helpful when you need to talk about how to make something or how to make something work:

  • You’ll start by/with…

  • The next thing you’ll do is…

  • After that, you will…

  • Last, but not least,...

Here’s an example of how we can use these expressions to describe a simple process:

We’ll start by making sure the machine is on the right setting.

The next thing we’ll do is insert the paper into the machine.

After that, we’ll hit the “print” button.

Last but not least, we’ll wait for all the pages to print properly.

Expressions to put information in order of importance

Sometimes, English learners can get confused between how to describe something in a sequence versus in the order of importance.

Whether you’re writing an essay or giving a presentation, it’s important to follow some logical steps to make sure that your audience or reader is following you. So, you can use expressions such as:

  • The first point I want to make…

  • The first issue I want to discuss…

  • Now let’s talk about…

  • Moving on, I want to explore…

  • Then let’s focus on…

  • Ultimately…

Here are some ways you might use these expressions:

  • The first point I want to make is that education is not accessible to everyone.

  • The first issue I would like to discuss is our problem with media consumption.

  • Now let’s talk about the fact that gas prices are rising.

  • Moving on, I want to explore the ways in which we can eliminate waste.

  • Then, let’s focus on how we can implement these policies right away.

  • Ultimately, it’s going to take a lot of work to make these changes, but it’s possible.

Did you notice how I used different verbs in the expressions: make, discuss, talk about, explore, etc.?

Especially in writing, it’s a good idea to use a variety of verbs and structures in your functional language so that your English doesn’t feel so repetitive.

Expressions for related details

When it comes to a detailed argument, we also use these English expressions to give supporting details that strengthen our main ideas. Here are some examples:

  • I should also mention that…

  • It’s also worth considering that…

  • You should also note…

  • It’s also important to take into account that…

And we might use them in this way:

  • I should also mention that fruits and vegetables are way more expensive than fast food.

  • It’s also worth considering that not everyone in this community approves of the construction.

  • You should also note that most people get their news from social media.

  • It’s also important to take into account that some countries don’t pay teachers enough.

Clarifying information

Sometimes we need to state or write things in a different or even simpler way in English to make sure that our readers or listeners don’t get lost in the details or in a complex argument. 

So, that’s why it’s important to have expressions that can help you clarify information. The great thing about these expressions is that they also help you create more variety in your writing or speaking style, which engages people even more.

Here are a few common examples:

  • What I mean is…

  • What I’m trying to say is that…

  • To put it another way…

  • In simpler terms…

And here’s how we might use them:

  • What I mean is that the economy won’t benefit from this decision.

  • What I’m trying to say is that people didn’t like her writing.

  • To put it another way, people just need to work harder.

  • In simpler terms, if we don’t buy their products, they won’t be able to do bad things.

Summarizing information

When we come to the end of one main idea or of a series of arguments, we need to summarize the information that we discussed and the points that we made. This is especially necessary for anyone who wants to write a well-constructed English essay for the IELTS, TOEFL, or Cambridge exam.

But they’re not just helpful for writing. They’re also helpful for speaking, too, especially if you’re discussing something important with someone or if you’re defending your unpopular opinion about something. 

A summarizing or concluding expression shows your reader or listener that you’ve come to the end of your argument, and it allows them another chance to process everything you’ve said or written.

So, here are some expressions that we can use at the end of a main idea or in the conclusion of our argument. 

  • All things considered…

  • With all this in mind…

  • All this is to say that…

  • Overall…

And here are some examples of how we might use them:

  • All things considered, I don’t think we should consider obesity a public health issue.

  • With all this in mind, students should be allowed to decide if they want a university education.

  • All this is to say that we should try to reduce the stigma around mental health.

  • Overall, I think the benefits of electric cars for the environment outweigh the disadvantages.


Focusing on specific details

I mentioned some expressions you can use for giving details that are related to your main point earlier, but we also have English expressions that we can use to focus on a specific point we want to make. We can use these expressions when we want to shift our focus from one point to another. 

And here are some phrases we can use to do just that!

  • When it comes to…

  • In terms of…

  • If we’re talking about…

  • Taking a closer look at…

Here are some ways that we can use these expressions:

  • When it comes to modern-day space travel, Elon Musk claims to have the answers.

  • In terms of downsizing, I think it’s better to keep as many employees as we can.

  • If we’re talking about online dating, some people feel that it’s a strange way to meet people.

  • Taking a closer look at the problem, you’ll find that it’s a complex situation.

Looking at something a different way

There are times when we want to ask our reader or listener to consider an issue or point from another perspective. This can also help to clarify your argument and show that there are other ways to approach an issue. For example:

  • Looking at this in another way…

  • From this angle…

  • If we think about it a different way…

  • Taking another look at this issue…

And we might use these expressions like this:

  • Looking at this another way, you’ll find that the new construction doesn’t benefit the local economy.

  • From this angle, it’s easier to understand why people are so upset about this new policy.

  • If we think about it a different way, his argument against smartphones makes sense.

  • Taking another look at this issue, our initial problems don’t make as much sense.

Showing an exception 

If you’ve ever had to write an essay for an English exam, you know that sometimes you are asked to consider both sides of an argument. And it’s a good thing to do! 

It helps make your argument stronger when you can “play devil’s advocate,” that is, to defend a perspective that goes against your own.

Here are some expressions we can use to show exceptions to a certain argument or way of seeing something:

  • Still…

  • Regardless of the fact that…

  • I admit that…

  • While it’s true that…

Keep in mind, we often use these expressions to connect two clauses or sentences that contrast each other. So, we often use them in this way:

  • Some people believe that not all speech should be free. Still, it’s hard to decide what speech shouldn’t be free.

  • Regardless of the fact that the new construction will cause a lot of traffic, I think it’s going to benefit our local economy.

  • I admit that driverless cars seem like an exciting idea, but they’re actually more dangerous than you might expect.

  • While it’s true that elementary students benefit from homework in some ways, it still prevents them from the free time they might spend with their family.

You should also check out: Tips for Small Talk in English 

Practice Exercise

Choose one of the writing prompts below and write a paragraph (five sentences) answering the question. Be sure to use at least five of the expressions we’ve mentioned in this post. And, of course, we’d love it if you write your answer in the comment section so we can give you feedback!

  • Some people think middle school students shouldn’t have any homework, while others think it’s beneficial. Discuss your opinion and support your argument.

  • What are some advantages and disadvantages of shopping online? Consider both points of view, and explain your personal opinion.

  • Some people think art--including music, visual art, performance art--should be free. Why do you think people think this way, and what is your opinion?

How can I use more functional language in my everyday English practice?

My first piece of advice here is to take it slowly. Don’t try to learn a long list of functional phrases and expressions all at once. That will only overwhelm and discourage you.

Instead, take five to seven new phrases at a time, and focus on learning and practicing with those for a couple of weeks. Then move on to a new set of phrases.

So, what should you do to practice? Think about the ways you learn best. If you’re a visual learner, write the phrases out on cards or print them out and put the paper in a place you will see them all the time. Every time you look at them, try to use at least one of them in a sentence.

Then, of course, use them in speech and writing! Record yourself speaking with some functional phrases for a few minutes a day. Challenge yourself to write at least two sentences with these phrases every day. Keeping your practice small is great, especially if it will encourage you to do it every day.

About the Writer

Marta is an online ESL teacher who works with students from around the world. As a writer, language nerd, and content contributor for In English With Love, her mission is to empower English learners with knowledge and positivity.

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