Are you shy when it comes to speaking in English? Do you get tongue-tied when trying to hold a conversation? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Many people struggle with spoken English, but the good news is that there are things you can do to improve your skills. But before we get to them, we need to bust a couple of myths that prevent you from speaking English.
Myth №1: “They will think I’m stupid.”
A lot of people believe that if they don’t speak perfect English, others will think they are not very clever. This is, simply speaking, a lie.
Will your broken English make people think you are super smart? Maybe not. You know why?
Because the truth is no one really cares. Except for you.
Most of the time, people – especially native speakers! – just don’t care if your English is perfect or not. What people see is you making an effort to speak a foreign language. This in itself is infinitely cool!
Largely, it’s all just in your head. In reality, we have no idea what others think about us. Quite often, we would imagine the worst possible things that other people may think about us, but more often than not it is incredibly far from the truth.
So let it go. Speak. Make mistakes. Make more of them. Until you make them less and less. This is how growth happens.
Myth №2: “Everyone is marking my mistakes in their mind.”
Let’s look at this one for a moment. If you think everyone around you cares about the grammar mistakes you may be making and keeps track of them, think again.
Chances are the only person who is doing is actually you. This is not a bad thing in itself, because it means you know the rules and are able to spot when the rules are broken.
But don’t let it paralyze or embarrass you. Make it your strength. With every mistake you make, with every mispronounced word, you get closer to speaking fluently and correctly. You will not get there without making mistakes.
Oh, and one more useful thing to remember. Roughly 70% of human communication is nonverbal. It means only about 30% of our communication involves the actual words that we use. So, just give yourself a break, OK?
Myth №3: “Everyone around me knows English better than I do.”
Whatever made you think that? Have you actually heard all those people around you speak English? Have you asked them how well they can speak it?
In the vast of majority of cases, the answer is no. A lot of people are “somewhere in the middle”, probably on the same level as most learners of English.
A person can speak brilliant English, sure. But have you ever wondered why? Is it because they’ve been learning it their whole life? If it because they’ve lived in an English-speaking country for many years? Do they work in English all the time?
If your experience is different, then no wonder your levels of English are different. And it is totally fine! There is a crazy number of factors that influence a person’s language fluency, so there is no point in feeling shy or jealous.
Instead, be inspired. Be encouraged. Enjoy hearing others speak great English! Imagine yourself speaking like this one day. And know that if you’re having English lessons, you are already on the way to your dream English proficiency.
Now, we can finally learn some tips and tricks on how to effectively improve your spoken English.
1: Practice, practice, practice!
The more you speak, the more confident you will become. One way to practice is to find an English conversation tutor. This way, you can have regular conversations and get feedback on your progress.
Your conversation partner doesn’t have to be a native speaker. You can speak English with your fellow English learners. They can be your friends or just people you know. You can meet new people at some English-language events in your area. If there are none happening offline, go online!
If it happens so that you cannot find anyone to speak English with, you can still practice it. You can turn to virtual assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa, etc. A major upside to such a conversation partner is that they will not become impatient or impolite, or angry. Feel free to make any mistakes and speak for as long as you like. The likes of Siri can take anything.
Finally, you can practice speaking with the most intelligent, interesting, wonderful person in the world. Yourself. Before you start laughing, let me tell you that it is actually quite good practice.
“But what am I supposed to talk to myself about?” Well, you can go differently about it. For one, you can simply say your thoughts out loud. “I need to go food shopping.” “I’m thirsty, I want something to drink.” “This chicken was fantastic!”
Or you can take it to the next level and have self-interviews. You can google, for example, the most common questions people get asked at job interviews. Get the list of these questions and start answering them out loud. Or find an interview with your favorite actor or actress on YouTube and try answering the questions that they are being asked.
What’s more, you can record yourself and then listen back to see what exactly needs to be worked on.
2: Listen to native speakers as much as possible
Yes, yes, you want to learn to speak, not listen. But the two processes are very closely connected. It is true for our first language (mother tongue), and it is equally true for all the other languages we learn throughout our life.
We need to have an example of how a language sounds. We need to get used to it working in a speech. We need to hear how the pronunciation of words alters when they are part of a phrase. We may find out it is slightly different from how we hear words pronounced in dictionary entries.
All this informs us subconsciously how our tongue and lips should move to produce similar sounds. We want to be understood and to be understood, we need to speak in a way that can be comprehended by others.
If you live in an English-speaking environment, that’s great news! You’ll get used to the language quite quickly. If you can spend at least some time in an English-speaking country, that’s a great help.
But even if you find yourself far from native English speakers, not to worry. These days, there are so many ways to bring native speakers closer to you.
This can be done by watching English movies or TV shows, and listening to English podcasts or songs. And there is simply no excuse not to do it now that any content is easily accessible literally in a couple of taps and clicks.
Get your favorite book and listen to its audio version. Find videos with your favorite athletes. Listen to lectures on the history of our planet. All in English.
Pay attention to the rhythm and flow of the language, and try to mimic it when you speak. Go ahead and do it. No one is watching you. Go for it!
3: Keep enriching your vocabulary and improving Grammar
Yes, you should not be afraid of making mistakes. But your ultimate goal is to get better at speaking English, right? And speaking any language well means speaking correctly and speaking diversely.
For that, you need grammar and you need words.
Nowadays, there are lots of language apps that can help you learn words on a daily basis. They don’t have to be exotic or very complicated. On the contrary, learn the most common and simplest words first, because that’s what people use in their day-to-day life.
Once you’ve mastered the most common words, you can move on to something fancy if you want to. Using unusual or literary words does not automatically make you sound “smart”. You have to be extra careful with sophisticated words because they are refined. Pay attention to their usage, spelling, pronunciation, context.
And as for grammar, stick to those rules. Practice them in writing as well as speaking. Learn the tenses, master the articles, and become familiar with the prepositions. See them all in context. Note them in the things you read. Use them.
And once again: don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Everyone makes them, even native speakers! The more you practice, the less mistakes you will make. And even if you do make a mistake, don’t worry about it too much.
Keep speaking and eventually, you’ll get better and better. Don’t overthink things. Just do them. Say them. Sing them, if you feel like it! Life’s too short to worry about the wrong article. Keep at it, and that article will fit where it’s supposed to be.
So there you have it! These are just a few tips on how to improve your spoken English skills. With enough practice and patience, you’ll be having fluent conversations in no time!