A very common question language learners ask teachers is “How can I improve my English speaking?”. We all know what we have to do to improve really. We’ve thought of it or have been told it by our teachers many times before but, now and then, we need to be reminded of the best ways to improve our speaking skills. If we remember to keep studying smarter then we can be more effective in lessons as well as in our own self study.
These are the six best ways I know of for improving both speaking and listening skills in English. I have learnt these from my own experience of learning to speak foreign languages and from what my students tell me too:
Try to get into a habit of thinking in English.
Why: Usually when people are learning another language, they will translate what they want to say from their native language. This, of course, takes more time and effort to do. If you think in English then you will use it more as a ‘first’ language and you won’t have to translate.
How: Each time you think of something in your language, for example what you want, plan to do, your opinion etc, stop yourself, and think again in English instead. If you don’t know some vocabulary of what you want to think, use your phone and find out. You could also say your thoughts out loud if you wanted.
When you have spare time describe everything around you including: what you see, hear and feel. What you did, what you plan to do and what other people are doing.
Why: Practice makes perfect. If you practice using English more, you will improve. You can do this activity wherever you are and whenever you have free time.
How: You can say it out loud or just think it in your head. Use nouns, verbs, and adjectives to help you think of ideas. Make sentences when you’re describing and not just single words. For example, “I’m sitting at a wooden table on a black chair. I’m writing an advice blog entry. Soon I’m going to bed because I’m tired.”
3. Keep an audio diary
1. Record yourself every day. Say a) what you did, b) how you felt and c) what you will do the next day.
Why: Practice, practice, practice. This is something you can do everyday and most of it will be the same but there will be some differences so it will be not too difficult or boring. You will be talking about yourself and your life as well so you will learn and practice very useful personal language and not ‘textbook’ language. By recording yourself, you can also listen again, notice any common mistakes you make, and correct them too.
How: Use your phone or a computer. Record yourself two or three times but not any more or it will become annoying and you will want to stop. Keep it short and simple to begin with. If you need to, write down what you want to say first, then say it. If everyday is the same and it’s getting boring, think of how you can say it differently; what different words or grammar you could use, could you talk about someone else whom you met in your day?
4. Have conversations
- Have regular conversations
- Encourage your listener to give you feedback.
It is better to have regular conversations rather than an intense two-hour lesson with a teacher once a week. Regular practice allows you to review what you learnt before and build on it.
On www.italki.com , you can find teachers offering very cheap lessons to chat with regularly. You should use the “instant tutoring” option because then you don’t have to book lessons in advance and so you can have more short frequent talking lessons.
Don’t just talk however, encourage the person you’re talking to to give you feedback; they should either : 1. take notes of your mistakes and tell you about them when you’re finished OR 2. interrupt you when you’ve made a mistake and tell you then. Tell your teacher what you want them to do. You need to know what you are doing well and not so well to improve.
5. Watch movies or TV or listen to songs or podcasts
Use media you’re interested in
Learning from media will work best if you like it and are interested in it. Try many kinds of media to help you find something you like such as podcasts from the BBC website, songs, TV shows, or movies from Netflix or YouTube.
Listen to the media you like once or twice. Listen again but this time stop it after each sentence. Say the sentence out loud exactly as you heard it. Focus on copying how they say the sentence; the sounds they make, how fast they speak and the rhythm, rather than just the words. This can help you sound more natural when you speak.
Use your spare time to do it
Listening to podcasts and songs are also great because you can listen to them whenever you like—especially when you are travelling to work or school. You can also listen and shadow listen to them when you’re exercising for example at a gym, going for a walk, or run.
And finally ...
6. Take risks, make mistakes and have fun
If you only use language you know and are comfortable with, you will not improve. If you are too embarrassed or shy about making mistakes then you will not use new language. If you are too serious about speaking 100% correct all the time, you won’t take risks.
People have to be brave to learn a language and improve in it. It’s difficult and it takes effort every time. There are many ways to make this easier and practising with a teacher is one of the best ways. A professional teacher will make you feel comfortable and brave enough to take risks. Yes you will make mistakes and yes people will laugh at you, because it’s funny. Languages are funny. Any time someone laughs at you because you said something in a different way or in an incorrect way, remember that they would also sound funny if they tried speaking your language too.
Relax, take it easy and have fun!
So ... over to you. What do you think? Is this good advice? Would it work for you?