Understanding English – or any second language – is one thing. Being able to speak it clearly and confidently is another. There are many great websites to help you learn English; the grammar, sentence structure and vocabulary. Often, though, when it comes to learning to SPEAK the language well, it’s easy to find yourself feeling alone.
Here are 5 really good ways to improve your spoken English.
Method 1 – Listen to Native Speakers of English
This is important for two reasons. The first is that, if you are learning English with a teacher who is NOT a native speaker, you will be picking up mistakes as well as valuable information. You will be learning to speak English with the accent of your teacher, and NOT the accent of a native speaker.
What usually happens is that non-native speakers of English actually produce sounds in a different area of the mouth to native speakers, which his why second language speakers often find English sounds like ‘r’, ‘n’, ‘w’ and ‘th’ difficult or even impossible to say. They will copy their teacher and make a guess at it, often without getting it right. The second reason that this is important is that by listening carefully to native speakers, you will hear the flow and the ‘music’ of the language. This is something that you HAVE to hear – you cannot learn it from books and newspapers.
Method 2 – Just Say It!
Does this sound familiar? You’ve decided you’re going to practice speaking English…you’ve thought about what you want to say..you wait for your moment to speak, and when it comes…you say nothing. I’ve done this, when learning French and Spanish, and I’m sure you have too. Why do we do this? Usually we are worried in case we make a mistake, in case we get it wrong, or in case the other person misunderstands, or laughs. FEAR prevents us from practice. Just take a deep breath and SAY IT. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t sound perfect, just say it. Speaking out loud is the only way to improve your spoken English (or my French and Spanish!). The good news is, the more you do it, the easier it gets, and the more confident you become.
Method 3 – Act A Little!
This one might seem strange, but a good way of improving your English is to act a little. For example, to learn a British English accent, you might pretend that you are ‘Lord or Lady so-and-so’, or another suitable character. Imagine how they would talk: how clearly and precisely would they form their words? This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Many people are nervous about speaking out loud because they are embarrassed or even surprised by the new sounds that they are making. Putting those sounds into a ‘character’ like this can be a useful way of getting over those nerves. You probably wouldn’t want to speak in this voice all the time, but it’s a good way to practice on your own!
Linked to this idea about acting, is to focus on the mouth positions needed to speak good, clear English. Make these mouth positions bigger than they need to be when you practice them. Really get used to how the English sounds are made, and how they differ from the same sounds made in your own language. This will go some way towards helping you reduce your accent and the Mother Tongue Influence (MTI) on your spoken English.
Method 4 – Ask!
This is an obvious one…BUT it’s one that many people overlook!! How many times have you had a question about speaking better English, you’ve typed it into a search engine, and seen which answers most closely match your questions? What about using this as a starting point and ASKING the information provider your own question? It’s a good idea to make sure that your question has a chance of being answered, though – there are many forums where questions can sit for days or even weeks without an answer, and you might not want to wait that long.
There are many people (myself included) with blogs, YouTube channels, twitter and Facebook pages who can and will answer any questions that you have. Sometimes it’s easier to ask someone over the internet than put your hand up in class! Perhaps more importantly, we’ll either be able to provide you with specific answers, or your questions can be answered in way which will help other learners too.
Method 5 – Sign Up and Subscribe!
I’m sure many of you may already be doing this. Find those useful websites and blogs, and subscribe. That way you’ll receive ongoing, useful information to help you improve your spoken English, as well as invitations to online events…AND the opportunity to connect with other learners around the world, and swap ideas. You’ll find many opportunities online to hear native speakers speaking in real time in broadcasts of this sort. Choosing one that’s about English speaking is obviously a good choice: the host will be speaking slowly and clearly so you can hear and understand as much as possible.
It’s also useful to sign up for podcasts etc that are in English but on any subject matter of interest. These will probably be more of a challenge, as you will hear English spoken at a more natural pace. However, if your goal is to learn business English, then listening in to a call about business issues will not only be a chance for you to hear the language spoken at a natural speed, you’ll learn some new vocabulary too.
On international calls, listen carefully to the differences between native speakers, and those speaking English as a second language. LISTENING, as you’ll already be aware, is a critical part of improving the way you SPEAK. Above all, use this as an extra opportunity to PRACTICE wherever you can. Make sure that the knowledge in your head actually comes out of your mouth!