How can I improve my speaking?
For me, the key to improving this skill is to focus on meaning first and accuracy second. Communication is a two-way process. Make sure your message is clear to your listener, and this includes meaning and pronunciation. People will generally forgive you for mistakes in grammar or phrasing, but they’ll quickly get fed up with waiting for you to formulate your ideas. And they’ll get tired even sooner if they have to struggle to understand your pronunciation. Help them out by giving them as clear a message as possible.
In life, we speak to different people in various styles for different reasons.
For example, we may…
- chat to friends and family (face-to-face or online)
- ask for help or information (eg. about our studies, in shops, at work…)
- make bookings or appointments (eg. doctor, restaurant, travel….)
- explain what we want (eg. to order a coffee, change our course…)
- describe events and experiences (eg. tell someone about a party, an accident…)
- express ideas and opinions (on many topics throughout the day)
- tell jokes, anecdotes or stories (to share our humour, our experiences…)
- give a presentation (to classmates, colleagues, clients)
- talk to customers for our job or to people in the community (eg. shopkeepers, a teacher)
So we need to be aware of the purpose, style and level of formality that’s appropriate for communication in a particular context. Choose language that matches the situation.
Sometimes it’s difficult to see your progress in speaking. To improve, you need to work on fluency, accuracy, range, interaction and organisation.
To speak better …
- Don’t worry if you make mistakes. But learn from them!
- Try to say more and support your ideas – don’t say too little.
- Watch native speakers – learn from what they do and mimic their patterns.
- Learn phrases to check if listeners understand what you mean and to clarify.
- Learn if words are formal or informal. Choose the best language for the situation.
- Learn ‘chunks’ of language (phrases, collocations…) to help you understand & respond faster.
- Practise pronunciation – individual sounds, word stress, sentence stress, intonation.
- Practise connecting speech by using weak forms (in unstressed syllables) and linking.
- Speak at a good speed (not too fast and not too slow – aim to be fluent but intelligible).
- Try not to translate from your language – it is slow and may not mean the same.
If you do this,your speaking will become better and clearer.
Fact: The more you listen, the better you will speak!!
This is because we learn ideas and language while we listen. We can then use that language in our speaking. We also learn how other speakers help the listener to understand better.
Speaking is a bridge between speaker and listener.
Ask yourself: “Does the listener understand my meaning?”
To improve your speaking skills, you need to reflect:
- Recognise the good points of your speaking and be pleased about them (eg. nice interaction, clear sounds, good speed…)
- Think about speaking weak points. Try to improve them one at a time (eg. meaning not clear, no sentence stress…).
- Think about whether you spoke without stopping to think of words/ideas too much. Did you say enough, at reasonable speed? (fluency)
- Learn from teachers’ or friends’ advice, so you can stop making the same mistakes – eg. errors with grammar or vocabulary use. (accuracy)
- Try to use new vocabulary/collocations – don’t repeat the same words too often. And try to use different tenses when you need to – eg. past, present, future… (range)
- Think about linking and supporting your ideas. (Did you use linking words and give reasons for your opinions?) (organization)
- After conversations, think: “Did I talk enough? / Did I talk too much?” Did I listen to my partner/s, and show interest? (interaction)
Here are some speaking skills tasks to try…
- Watch the body language and speaking style of native speakers (real life/TV/films). Try to copy them in your own speaking.
- Collect words and phrases from conversations, movies, Youtube. Try to use them – how successful were you?
- Learn common phrases for short everyday interactions – try them out!
- Talk about current topics and try to use new language when you speak to others.
- Chat to people from different countries at lunch/around town /on the internet /on weekends.
- Join a sports team, social activity, English language group…
- Plan an event, party or trip in English with friends. (Discuss activities, costs, arrangements and so on).
- Find a speaking partner. Meet regularly (face-to-face or online) to practice talking about different topics.
- Brainstorm vocab/ideas for a topic; then try to talk to someone about it.
- Plan a short talk or anecdote – think about your grammar, vocabulary, organisation of ideas and signalling phrases
- Talk to yourself or record your speaking – try practice dialogues, planned speaking or replay conversations in your head.
- Work on your listening and your pronunciation.