It will not be a surprise for anyone if I say that if you want to learn to speak a foreign language, you have to speak it. Even if you know every English grammar rule and can understand 99% of the words when reading, it won’t guarantee that you will be able to speak fluently, as for some people there is some kind of inner obstacle that prevents them from speaking. This article is mostly for intermediate students or advanced students, but some tips can be useful even for beginners. I do not know if these tips will suit you but I am just describing the ways that help my students and me.
My tips for improving speaking skills:
Tip #1: Make a vocabulary list
Make a vocabulary list and write down all the new words that you come across while reading newspapers and books, listening to podcasts or watching films. Nevertheless, writing down a word is not enough, you should also do the following steps:
Step #1: Write the word in a contextual sentence.
Step #2: Write a translation or a definition of the word (it is better to do it in English, but you can also use your own language).
Step #3: Think of your own sentence where this word may be used. If it is difficult for you to think of your own sentence, find another sentence with this very word on the Internet. Note: If you create your own sentence, it is better to ask your teacher or a competent native speaker to correct it as it is quite easy to misuse it.
The following links can help you in providing a definition in English and with word usage.
Online English dictionaries:
Other Internet resources:
Step #4: Try to reproduce the initial sentence and then your own sentence. At first, you can do it in the “look up and say manner”, but then try to reproduce it from memory.
For example: We have a sentence with an unknown word unfavorable. We can write the sentence:
If the weather is unfavorable, do you have any other suggestions to replace our original plans?
Give a definition or a translation of the unknown word unfavorable (likely to cause problems or difficulties) and then find more sentences with your target word. For example:
The conditions were unfavorable for agriculture.
Try to reproduce these sentences. Come back to your notes later (in two days) and reproduce the sentences once again. If you have a teacher, ask them to prepare a speaking test for you based on the new words that you have been learning for a week or two.
Tip #2: Try to talk to yourself
In Russian we have a joke:
Person 1: “It’s strange that you talk to yourself.”
Person 2: “Nothing strange. It is just great to talk to a smart person.”
Personally, I always try to discuss everything with myself in English. When I commute, ride a bike, or do shopping I have an inner monologue and sometimes a dialogue. Does that sound crazy!? Sometimes, if I do not remember an English word for my “monologue”, I look it up in the electronic dictionary that I always have with me. You should forget about your native language and start thinking in English.
Tip #3: Listen
Listen to educational podcasts. Try to understand the basic information and learn new words from the podcast to increase your vocabulary and try to repeat after the native speaker has spoken to improve your pronunciation. As for me, if I hear a new word in an educational podcast, I always try to make up a sentence with this word in my head and pronounce it. My favourite podcasts are:
Podcasts, based on news:
Tip #4: Watch films
Watching a film, followed by a discussion, is very important for your conversational skills and it can be very interesting. If you are not an advanced student, it would be a great idea if your teacher made a film-based plan for you. Here is a link to the lesson that I prepared for my Russian students, learning English.
The plan is based on the BBC documentary film BBC moments in time 2013. You can find a great number of documentary films on YouTube, for example. I think that the most important task in this plan is writing an essay where you can use all the words covered in the lesson. Of course, you should have a native speaker or a teacher for a discussion and for checking your essay, but if you watch a film just for picking up new words, you can do it on your own.
Tip #5: Use Rhino Spike
If you have a text or just a sentence, you can upload it to Rhino Spike and native speakers will record it for you. They can also correct your mistakes. Later you may repeat after the recording with proper intonation.
Tip #6: Do not be afraid
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes and don’t wait for that moment when your English becomes perfect. I know many people who have been learning English for many years but still don’t use it because they lack self-confidence. Find a language partner and discuss something with them, arrange dates with an English speaking girlfriend/boyfriend, find English speaking tourists and help them to find their way. Just act!