Updated: Nov 6, 2020
This is a guest blog post by Jackie Bolen of www.eslactivity.org
I taught English to Korean university students for almost 10 years. I’d do surveys at the beginning of my courses and ask students what they wanted to improve during the next few months with me. I’d list some examples like grammar, writing, speaking, listening ability, etc.
Without fail, almost all the students said their top priority was improving their English speaking! Is it the same for you?
Speaking is often the most difficult thing to improve because it happens in real time, with the exception of something like a presentation. Of course, it’s easy to think of the perfect thing to say after the conversation is done. But, on the spot? Our brains don’t work that quickly in another language sometimes!
If you want to improve your English speaking, here are five ideas for things you can do.
#1: Enjoy English!
Have you been stuck in a classroom for way too long, slogging through some serious grammar and vocabulary? Learning another language can be fun! Of course, some things are not fun; studying vocabulary lists, or figuring out a difficult grammar concept won't be easy. However, there are plenty of enjoyable things you can do too!
Watch an English movie or TV show (without the subtitles is best)
Read an English book that you enjoy
Talk to some friends in English (even those you share a first language with)
Go out to a foreign restaurant where the waiter or waitress doesn’t speak your native language
Join a conversation club that meets for a beer or coffee after work one evening a week
Practice singing some English songs
Remember to have fun while you learn! This is what will motivate you to keep going, and you’ll end up learning more in the end.
#2: Switch Conversation Partners (in class and real life)
In conversation classes, I’ve found that students usually sit next to the same person every day. Or perhaps you only have one English speaking friend that you talk to all the time.
Talking to only one or two people isn’t the best way to practice speaking and listening. It’s much better for you to talk to a wide variety of people. They will use different kinds of grammar and vocabulary. Also, your conversation topics will be more varied the more people you talk to.
So don’t be shy! If your teacher doesn’t make you switch partners in an English conversation class, do it yourself. If you have only one or two friends who you speak English with, make some more friends. Find lots of people to practice speaking English with!
#3: Improve your Small Talk Abilities
Small talk is informal conversation with someone that you don’t know very well. The topics can include things like weather, local sports teams, appearance (a new shirt or haircut), hobbies, etc.
Small talk happens all the time but it’s often not something that teachers have students practice. However, it’s important that you’re confident in it if you don’t want to have awkward conversations when meeting someone for the first time, or with someone that you don’t know well. The good news is that small talk isn’t so difficult. Once you know some good topics and a few phrases for starting the conversation, it’s easy. Here are some resources to help you:
Or, search YouTube for “small talk practice,” or, “English small talk.”
#4: Learn How to be Vague
Being vague in casual conversation will make you sound more like a native speaker. Being too factual or exact can make your conversation sound formal. Using phrases like: about, kind of, sort of, up to, that kind of thing, etc. can make you sound more relaxed and natural. For example, “I’ve been here about six months,” sounds more natural than, “I’ve been here for five months and three weeks.”
In the movie Forrest Gump, Bubba is asked a question about cooking shrimp. You can watch his answer here. However, in a normal conversation, the speaker would name one or two favorite shrimp dishes and end with, “. . .and that kind of thing.”
Don’t do what Bubba does!
If someone asks you about your job, you can say, “I take care of the payroll and that kind of thing.” This is better than getting into a detailed list of all of your duties, which is quite boring! If the person is interested, they can ask for more information.
Or, if someone asks about your hobbies, you can give one or two examples of the things you’ve been doing a lot lately. “I’ve been doing lots of snowshoeing this winter,” is better than, “I like snowshoeing, hiking, taking pictures, travelling, cooking, reading, watching movies, playing tennis and swimming.”
#5: Record your Voice and Listen
You can use a voice recording app on your phone to listen to yourself. When you listen to yourself speaking English, you will probably notice many mistakes. Some examples include:
Simple grammar mistakes (He go ---> He goes)
Intonation and/ or stress errors (Emphasizing the wrong part of a word or sentence)
Wrong vocabulary choices
There are many things you can notice. So, give yourself a topic and record yourself speaking with your phone or computer.
Some topics to get you started:
Talk about your middle or high school days. What did you like and what didn’t you like? You will probably notice some errors with verbs in the past.
What do you love about your family? What is one thing you would change if you could?
What is your favorite movie?
Do you have any pets? Talk about how awesome they are!
Listen to a podcast, movie clip, etc. and record yourself saying the same thing. Try to imitate the stress and intonation in the original.
Read a dialogue aloud.
Need More Tips for Improving your Speaking?
If you need even more ideas for improving your English speaking abilities, you’ll want to check out this book: 71 Ways to Practice English Speaking. It’s available on Amazon. It’ll help you stay motivated on your way to better speaking!