Whenever you ask a language learner what their goals are, the response is normally ‘improve my speaking.’Sounds easy but speaking involves so much more than just opening your mouth. It’s not just what you say, it’s how, when, why, and to whom, you need to think about. Luckily, just like with other skills, there are techniques you can use to improve your spoken English. Here are just a few to think about.
Gain confidence by interacting with strangers
One of the biggest barriers to improving English speaking skills can be confidence. Many language learners struggle with confidence, but one of the best ways to overcome this is to simply get out there and speak!So nervous you don’t know what to say? Think about preparing a ‘cheat sheet’ before your interactions. Going to the doctor? Before your appointment, research vocabulary relating to your medical complaint. You can make cheat sheets before booking train tickets, going to a restaurant or for any other situations that may make you too nervous to speak
Speak English socially
Practice makes perfect, and you don’t need to practise with just native speakers. In fact, speaking English with your fellow language learners can help you just as much, as you may notice certain mistakes your fellow learners make based on their first languages. Plus,it will help you avoid them in your spoken English. Conversation meet-ups and clubs are a great way to get some extra social and conversational English practice. Look online and register to join UKCE’s free conversation club every Friday at 2pm.
Expand your vocabulary
Widening your vocabulary will make it easier to speak to a wider range people on more diverse topics. Consider learning a set number of words a day, even one word a day is still 365 words a year! TV shows, song lyrics and newspapers are all good resources for finding new vocabulary. Try to write down words in context to help you remember them as well as learning words in phrases and chunks. For example, ‘a pint of beer’ and ‘a cup of tea’ rather than just beer and tea.
Chatting with Siri is a fantastic way to force yourself to speak more clearly so she understands you. Siri is also always available so you can practise talking to her whenever you want. Language apps like Duolingo also have speaking elements and can help you practise real-time situations and audio clips to improve your pronunciation. There are also many online speaking apps such as Tandem and HelloTalk. Once you register and introduce yourself, the apps can find you native speaker level matches based on the languages you know and the languages you want to practise.
Phone calls and WhatsApp voice notes
Phone calls can be difficult for language learners, as you can’t rely on body language or facial gestures to get your ideas across. To get more confident, start with small conversations with friends before moving on to more challenging calls like making appointments. You could also use cheat sheets or notes to help you with confidence and vocabulary before you speak.
Record your voice
Most people hate hearing their voice recorded, but it can actually really help improve your speaking. When you record and listen to yourself, you may be able to identify pronunciation errors or notice things that you hadn’t realised before, such as speaking too quickly when you are nervous or mumbling. Start by recording yourself reading an article from a magazine or newspaper. Once you get comfortable with listening to your own voice, you could start recording yourself speaking about any topic that interests you!
Listen to English
Listening and understanding is key to developing your communicative skills in English.
Watching any kind of TV show or film can not only help you hear the correct pronunciation of words, but also help you understand how each word in a sentence is produced in a natural setting and context. Choose a show that interests you and copy words and phrases you hear. You could also listen for and repeat phrases to focus on word and sentence stress as well as looking out for the speaker’s intonation. Listening to podcasts and audio books are also effective ways of exposing yourself to correct pronunciation, stress and intonation in words and sentences. Once downloaded to your phone, you can listen, repeat and learn vocab and pronunciation wherever you are and whenever you want.
Study the natural flow of English
Just like learning phrases and chunks are better than learning individual words, so too is learning the natural flow of a sentence is better than focusing on just the words. Next time you listen to something in English, focus on how native speakers link words together by joining two sounds, omitting sounds or change sounds to produce a better flow of language. Listening for contractions, stress and linking, all contribute to the overall rhythm of language and learning to produce them will help you sound more fluent. Not only are these features of connected speech important to use to improve your fluency, but they will also help you understand other English speakers and widen the circle of people you can communicate effectively with.
Knowing a lot of vocabulary is great, but if not pronounced correctly, people may fail to understand you. There are many ways to focus on your pronunciation. Online dictionaries, such as Cambridge, have features where you can listen to a word with English and American accents. Focusing on where in the mouth sounds come from and mouth movements required of a word can also help improve pronunciation. Practising in front of a mirror can help you ensure you have positioned your tongue, teeth or lips correctly, especially if your first language doesn’t contain the sounds you’re trying to produce.
Having fun can make it much easier to learn something. Try saying a word with different sounds and emotions, sing along with your favourite songs or try some tongue twisters such as:
She sells seashells by the seashore
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?