English Language conversation: how to improve English Speaking
So you’ve been learning English as your second language, maybe you’ve taken a few courses at an English Language School, maybe you’re learning English all by yourself or maybe you took English as a second language many years ago and you’re worried that your spoken English has gotten rusty. Where ever you are on your learning journey, speaking confidently and clearly is very important in showing off what you know! We’ve done some digging around and gathered some advice to help you improve your English speaking so you know you’ll be heard.
English Speaking Tip #1 – Practise what you know and what you don’t!
In England, we have a saying: practice makes perfect, and it is completely true. The main way you are going to improve speaking any language is to keep on speaking it. This can be hard to do, but don’t be shy, the more you speak in English the more confident you will get.
There are two ways we can think of to do this. First, you can practise what you know already. You may have picked up some useful phrases already through English courses you’ve attended, or possibly phrases you’ve found in books or on social media. It’s good to make sure that what you’ve learned is correct, which is why it’s good to start with phrases you’ve learned at your English language school. Next, try and match some of your favourite English phrases against the situations you might find yourself in. If you are in an English-speaking country that’s obviously a lot easier, so if you know you’re going to go into a café in the UK, for example, you can predict what language you might need for that. If you’ve done this a thousand times already, try and challenge yourself to use a new phrase. By practising your vocabulary in this way, you find that very quickly those phrases become a part of your long-term memory, so you’ll never forget. You might want to write down the phrases you plan to use in conversations tomorrow and tick them off when you’ve managed it. Enjoy the fun of the challenge of getting phrases into the conversation, and enjoy people’s reactions to you using clever or interesting English.
If you’re not in England or another English speaking country, then you’ve got more work to do! There are always English people somewhere, so maybe work out where you can find them. Are there groups or clubs you can go to? Is there a friend of a friend you know to be English, and you’ve always been a bit nervous about speaking to them? If so, try the same approach. Work out a phrase which you know you can use, for example, “How did you first meet Maria?”, “How long have you two known each other?” “Tell me about where you’re from in England”... The benefit of those sorts of questions are also that you get the other person talking, and you can sit back and listen!
So all that was about you practising phrases that you know already. You can also just throw yourself into a situation and let your brain work out how to survive! Sometimes it doesn’t help so much to practice, and you’ll only deal with the speaking situation when you’re there doing it for real. This is about your ability to improvise, to pull vocabulary, phrases, grammar from different corners of your mind and see what happens.
Remember that whenever you’re speaking English, you’re going to make mistakes, everyone makes mistakes and so will you, even native speakers get it wrong sometimes. Making a mistake when speaking is not as bad as you think. The worst that will happen is you’ll create a funny situation which makes a great story for the future. Anyone who has learned another language has some funny stories about the time they said something wrong!
English Speaking Tip #2 – Listen and note things down to look up later
If you are a little on the quiet side and prefer to wait and watch a bit, the best thing you can be doing is to listen to the world around you. This works best if you’re in an English speaking environment. If you’re learning English in the UK or any other English speaking country (maybe America or Australia) everything around you will be in English. Listen to the radio, watch TV in English with subtitles, listen to the announcements when you’re on the train, eavesdrop[i] (but don’t get caught!). It teaches you pronunciation and the ability to recognise different accents. Then you can take what you hear and practise it when you do speak. It sometimes actually helps to note down particular words or maybe phrases that you think you heard, and then check them when you get the chance. You could do this on a smartphone, or simply on a piece of paper or a tiny little notebook like these that we think are cool.
In an English speaking country, you have the benefit of hearing the language spoken in context, so you can guess a lot from where you are, what is happening around you, and also people’s gestures and facial expressions. Most of our communication as humans is non-verbal, so try and guess what someone might be talking about and then listen for a few keywords to see if you’re right. Your brain will do a lot of the work for you without you realising it. The idea of noting down words you hear is also really good because you’ll start to remember where you heard a word. Don’t be in a rush to look up the word immediately. Instead, stay fixed on the conversation you’re listening to. When you find out later what it means, the moment you go “A-ha, THAT’S what they were talking about!” will fix that memory in your mind, and the word has a better chance of staying in your brain.
English Speaking Tip #3 – Use the internet as part of your strategy
The internet is a great help for everything these days! As our third piece of advice we’d say “Use it, but use it in a certain way”. Of course, this works especially well if you’re not in an English speaking place.
There are loads of great websites out there that you could practise your speaking on. You don’t have to be on an English course or in an English Language school to improve your speaking. Check out this blog post on 10 websites for improving your English online It has more than you need to start practising online.
The only thing we would add is that it’s important that online English courses don’t take you in the wrong direction. The most interesting thing about English speaking in the real world is that this is your amazing opportunity to talk about what interests you – your passions, your hobbies, what makes you laugh and cry, your friends and family, your hopes and dreams. So don’t be pulled into learning the things you’ll never need. Pick and choose the subjects that interest you, so you don’t become demotivated. We want you to enjoy speaking English, so if the subject is not inspiring you, you will definitely be able to find something else. Once you’ve found a subject that interests you, just make sure it’s at the right level for you. You can take a free English test to check your level. That will mean the English content won’t be too easy or too difficult for you.
English Speaking Tip #4 – Find a buddy[ii]
Don’t be loner[iii] now. Making new friends is a fantastic way to improve your speaking. The best thing to do is team up with other people who are also trying to learn English.
If you are studying in an English language school, a good school will help to do this for you. So if you’re staying with a homestay provider, the English school staff will make sure you are placed with a student who speaks a different language to you. This will mean you have to speak English to communicate with each other, so you don’t fall into the habit of speaking in your mother-tongue. A buddy can be more that that though. So for example, during English summer programmes (which often combine English classes in international groups with exciting excursions and activities), schools will use the ‘buddy system’ to ensure you always have a familiar face and someone to be there for you AND help you to speak more English!
Even if you’re not studying in the UK, we’d tell you to follow the same advice – find a buddy! Using English to make new friends means you’ll be speaking in English every day. You can help each other, share vocabulary or correct mistakes, but most importantly you’ll be doing it together and doing things together is always much more fun and easier than doing things alone. Having someone to support you and encourage you also makes you work harder. You could research new interesting words and phrases online, and keep them noted to share with your buddy at the end of the day. Even if you’re not in the same location, you could connect via Skype and chat. You could even keep in touch with the buddy you met in the UK and continue learning and supporting each other when you get home.
[i] To eavesdrop is to listen to someone else’s conversation, usually without them knowing
[ii] A buddy is another word for a friend. The idea of a buddy here is someone you work with as a team so that you support each other.
[iii] Someone who spends all their time on their own, not talking to other people.
English Speaking Tip #5 – Fine-tune your pronunciation
So now we’ve got you speaking with native speakers and new friends, you’re improving your vocabulary by using the internet and listening to the world around you. Your confidence is growing because you’re not afraid of making mistakes and you’re not alone in learning English, but you’re still having trouble making all those tricky sounds English people make with their mouths. This can be especially hard to do if you decide to learn English later in life.
The best thing for it is the Phonemic Alphabet. It might look nothing like English but trust me it helps! You can find one here: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/phonemic-chart it helps you pronounce every English word correctly. Each symbol stands for a sound (kind of like Cyrillic script for Slavic languages) so it gives you that little extra bit of knowledge when it comes to speaking.
Remember no matter where you are you can always practise speaking English and you won’t be the only one trying, so make friends and it’ll get easier. Be confident in yourself! You’re doing something incredibly difficult. Remember to make mistakes so you can learn from them, and if someone comments on your accent just remember that you’ll soon be able to speak two languages and that outweighs perfect pronunciation any day!