If you feel like oral production is your biggest challenge when it comes to learning English, you´re not alone. It’s a daunting task and one that can make us feel vulnerable or self-conscious. Unfortunately, it can also be a hard skill to improve as we don’t always have access to native speakers. The majority of students struggle with speaking skills and find frustration in their seeming lack of progress in this area.
Though a large part of the solution can be attributed to practice, there are certainly some tips and tricks that we can share with you in order to ease the burden. We’ve compiled our top ten tips in order to maximise your speaking skills and ace your next conversation!
Just as reading helps to improve your writing, listening helps to improve your speaking. A lot of this comes down to pure mimicking, also known as “speech shadowing”. That is, copying the examples we hear from various sources, whether that be a Netflix series, a podcast, or simply listening to a native speaker. This will help you to perfect your pronunciation, as well as improve your intonation and timing. By doing this, you will help yourself to understand the natural flow of English, so you can begin to produce it yourself!
Bonus tip: Why not listen to some of your favorite music in English, and try to repeat the lyrics after the singer?
Reading is another effective way to improve your speaking skills hugely. Sometimes we tend to scan-read documents, understanding the meaning without really testing our pronunciation. Reading the page of a book, or the subtitles from an episode, can help you decipher which words are challenging for you, or which contractions or structures you need to work on. By reading a written text multiple times, you can test yourself and aim to read the piece faster each time, working on achieving fluidity in your speaking skills.
This is particularly useful when it comes to the real-life production of language. It’s common to be intimidated when faced with situations such as making a phone call or ordering in a restaurant. However, by learning some fixed phrases or “chunks” of language, you’ll be able to save yourself a lot of anxiety! For example, learn to combine individual words to make common phrases, e.g. “A glass of wine”, “A nice place for dinner”, or “The only problem is…”. This way, when it comes to speaking, you´ve already done half the work, and you can feel confident in knowing that at least this part of your interaction is correct.
Whether you’re washing the dishes, making the bed, or planning your week, why not try talking to yourself in English to describe these processes? Better yet, if you are overthinking about something (as we all do), and you find yourself going over something in your head, switch to English and see how effectively you can communicate the same ideas. If you want to push yourself, try doing it out loud, in order to maximize pronunciation perfection. And if someone second-guesses you for talking to yourself, invite them to join the conversation!
There are many free apps out there that will provide you with a word a day in order to maximize your vocabulary. By doing this, you’ll be able to diversify and expand the content of your oral expression. A good tip is to try to look at new vocabulary as a fun challenge for yourself. Ask yourself, “Okay, how can I use this new word today?”. By looking for ways to use it, you will automatically help yourself to understand when and where this word should be used, and through repetition, you will transfer this word to your long-term memory, ingraining it in your everyday vocabulary. And of course, there’s always the old-fashioned way: Get your hands on a dictionary and start from ‘A’!
A great method to enhance your speaking skills is to record yourself, either via a camera or a simple voice recording. Often, we don’t hear our mistakes as we´re speaking, so listening to a recording of ourselves can help us to hear where we’re making mistakes, in both pronunciation and intonation. A visual recording is usually better as it enables us to see how our mouth moves, which is a great way to improve pronunciation. This is particularly useful if we compare it to a real source. For example, recording yourself reading the transcript of a Ted Talk, and then listening to your recording vs the original.
Similar to our last tip, don’t underestimate the power of a mirror when it comes to perfecting your speaking skills. In order to produce correct phonetic sounds, we need to play around with the placement of our tongue, teeth, and lips. See how the sound changes as your mouth moves, and you will understand phonetic production with more clarity. There are many videos online to help you do this, so use them as a guide the next time you’re having trouble with a specific word or sound.
Conversations in English can be unpredictable, for example, when someone asks you to speak about an unfamiliar topic, or you get a phone call out of the blue. It can make us nervous, and this anxiety causes us to forget all the hard work we’ve put into learning this new language. Fortunately, we can avoid some of this unpredictability by preparing for our conversations. For instance, if you know you have to ring a hotel to make a reservation, practice the fixed phrases you’ll use on this interaction, or even have a look at the website beforehand to get to grips with the lingo? “Double room”, “Single room”, “Breakfast included, etc. Prepare yourself for any additional questions that could be asked, or even prepare yourself to say that your English is not the best and that you would like for your interlocutor to speak slowly and clearly. Knowing that you have this ability in your skillset will eliminate nerves and allow you to take control of the situation.
Although we know that speaking English can be scary, the most effective and foolproof way to improve is through practice. Use social media apps to find language exchanges to link up with a native speaker, in exchange for conversing with them in your own language. Take every opportunity in class to speak with your teacher and fellow students as much as you can. Perhaps you can even challenge yourself to choose one topic per day and speak about it for 5 minutes.
A common misfortune amongst English learners is the pressure to produce perfect speaking skills, with impeccable pronunciation and near-native pace of speaking. Loading this burden on yourself before even opening your mouth is a recipe for disaster. It’s not a surprise that a large majority of English learners say that they speak the best English when they’ve had a few drinks! Now, I’m not telling you to have a gin and tonic every time you need to speak English, but remember the importance of being relaxed and comfortable. Having a relaxed mind and body allows you to not just speak better, but also to feel comfortable enough to make mistakes, and laugh it off! As such, you’ll learn from these mistakes in an easy-going and breathable environment.
So there you have it! Those are our ten top tips to improve your speaking skills and conquer your fears around this part of learning English. We have no doubt that if you implement some, if not all, of this advice, you will see progress in your speaking skills within a short time. Remember: you wouldn’t judge a non-native speaker attempting to speak your language, so bear in mind that no one is judging you. Language is there to be explored, expanded, and played with. Making mistakes is a part of that package, and this is how you learn. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and get talking!