Many adult language learners love grammar! Grammar gives us a solid base on which to build our new language. But even if you know English grammar better than many native English speakers, you might still struggle with having a conversation. There are several reasons for this:
- When you read or write, you can take all the time you need. But when you speak with someone, you have to think quickly.
- There are many more phrasal verbs, expressions, and idioms in spoken English than in written English. It’s much more casual.
- English words may not be spelled the way they are pronounced. Hearing a word that you usually see in written form may be very confusing, and good pronunciation is important.
Don’t worry! Let’s look at ten ways you can improve your spoken English.
1. Talk to Yourself
If you don’t have anyone to practice English with, practice with yourself! Tell yourself what you are going to do today, or where you are going, or talk about whatever is on your mind. Ask yourself the questions you might use with a conversation partner, and practice answering them.
Hearing your own voice speaking English will help build your confidence.
2. Increase Your Vocabulary
While you are talking to yourself, you might want to say a word that you can’t translate. This is a great time to go look it up, because you will be able to remember it much better while you are actually using it in a sentence.
Learn words that are useful to you. For example, if you work in an office, learn words like printer and paper clip. Try an online dictionary like WordReference.com to translate your word. You’ll see a list of many possible uses, and the WordReference forum is a great place to get your questions answered.
3. Improve Your Pronunciation
Now that you know the meanings of words you want to use, remember that to be understood, you need to have good pronunciation. Don’t worry about the consonants, because people will understand you even if your r sounds like an l. Vowels are the most important thing to get right. Look at these examples:
Bat, bet, bit, bought, but
Bait, beet, bite, boat, boot
Notice that these words all start with b, and end with t. The only difference is the vowel sound in the middle! Practice saying the vowels correctly. It will improve your confidence when you are speaking.
If you don’t know how a certain word is pronounced, visit forvo.com. You can type in a word and listen to native speakers from different English-speaking countries pronounce it.
4. Listen, Listen, Listen
When you listen to native speakers, you will hear many words and phrases repeated. The more you listen, the more these phrases will begin to sound natural to you, and you can begin to use them yourself. You’ll know how to pronounce them and when to use them.
DVDs and YouTube videos are great for listening practice. Don’t turn on the subtitles until you’ve listened and understood as much as you can. When you turn on the subtitles, don’t just read them, speak them out loud! And that brings us to tip number 5 –
5. Shadowing Native Speakers
Shadowing is speaking at the same time as the native speaker. Repeat everything you hear, again and again, until you can speak right along with the native speaker. It will help if you write it down or read the subtitles. If you need to, you can slow the speed of many audio files. Practice until you can shadow at full speed. Copy the native speaker’s pronunciation, intonation, stress patterns, and rhythm. It’s not easy, but if you try this, your speaking will improve very quickly!
6. Record Yourself
While you are shadowing, record yourself speaking. When you listen, you will be able to hear exactly how your pronunciation differs from the native speaker’s. Practice, make improvements, and record it again until you are happy. Another great way to improve your confidence!
7. Learn to Use Filler Words
When you listen to a native English speaker, you will hear A LOT of empty filler words, such as umm, you know, or my personal favorite, like. I’m sure you’ve heard people say things like this:
I’m, like, not happy at all with my job. You know?
I don’t like my job. Do you understand what I mean?
We use these words when we are thinking about what to say. You can, too!
8. Chat With Your Phone
Change your cell phone’s settings to English, and have a chat with Siri or Alexa! It’s a great way to practice speaking, because they are extremely patient and you can ask the same question again and again. When they can understand you and answer your questions, you know you’ve got it right!
9. Learn the Rhythms of English
Spoken English has a rhythm and patterns of stressed and unstressed words. Listen carefully to native speakers, and you will hear these patterns. Try to imitate them. Spoken English also uses contractions that you probably already know, such as I’m for I am. And just like in your own language, words in a sentence can be linked together by their sounds – sometimes a sentence can sound like one long word! Being familiar with the rhythms of English can help your listening and speaking skills.
10. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes!
This is the most important tip! Speak with confidence! Most English speakers will be happy to hear you use English, and they will be patient and helpful. Just like everything else, the more you practice speaking, the better you will be. Now, put the grammar book away and start speaking!
Need more advice on how to make sure you can be understood when you’re speaking? Check out this post on why English speakers may not understand you, and find more ways to improve your English speaking skills!