Speaking English is the hardest thing for students to do.
Or so it seems.
English students complain that they can’t speak English. They don’t know how to express themselves. They don’t know what to say and they have no one to practice speaking with.
Oh no! How terrible!
While I feel sorry for English students in this situation, I also get a little annoyed.
They don’t really help themselves. The way they study English is not really the right way to do it.
Do you want to make big leaps in your English speaking progress?
Instead of feeling all tongue-tied and awkward when talking to a native-English speaker do you want to feel full of confidence?
Of course, you do.
Because I am about to show you exactly what you need to do in order to see positive progress in your English speaking ability.
Follow the next few steps and success can be yours.
1. Make a strategy
First things first.
You have to have a very clear strategy when it comes to studying English.
This is where many students fail. They just don’t have a dedicated, fixed study strategy.
They make vague plans and ideas about studying.
“I’ll do some speaking practice today,” they say. Then they go over the free book that they downloaded from some website — 5000 English Phrases You Can Use Today — read the first ten pages and that’s it.
Then they don’t do any further speaking practice for a week.
It can’t be like that.
You have to commit to a regular schedule of studying — same place, same time, every day.
Also if you have speaking lessons with a private tutor you have to make these a regular thing. It’s not really useful to have one lesson a week.
I know hiring a private tutor is expensive and English classes in schools are not cheap. But unless you can afford to hire a tutor at least twice a week I would encourage you not to do it. Having one speaking class once a week is a waste of time and money.
And while we’re on the subject, hire a private tutor.
Classes in English schools are largely a waste of time.
2. Use what English you already know
Whatever English you already know you must try to use it in real life whenever you can.
Something simple like ordering coffee in Starbucks where you say to the waiter: Could I have that to go, please?
Once you start using phrases like this your confidence grows and you feel better.
Whatever phrases and expressions you already know start using them whenever you have the chance. They will start to fall off your tongue with ease. You will stop thinking about saying these things and they will become natural.
Make a list of common phrases and expressions that you know and try to use them in your daily life.
3. Make English a habit
Habits are wonderful things, aren’t they?
Well, good habits are.
Bad habits… yeah, not so much.
But good habits are great.
You probably have some of your own, right?
Like doing regular exercise, brushing your teeth twice a day, always making your bed first thing in the morning.
These are habits that you learned. You were not born with them. You learned them.
They are learned behaviour.
So, you know what I am going to say now.
Make learning English a habit.
Tell yourself that you are going to make English a habit, a part of your daily routine. A part of your regular day.
Set a time and a place to study English speaking.
If you are lucky enough to have your own tutor then set a time and a place with him and stick to that time and place.
But if you are studying alone it is a little more difficult.
Your mind will make excuses for you and convince you to take a day off.
English is too difficult.
I’ll study harder tomorrow.
Don’t listen to this voice. This is the voice of resistance. You must stick to the habit every time. Every day is best.
A man who wants to get big doesn’t go to the gym once a week. He goes at least three times a week. He can’t take a few days off. It doesn’t work that way.
And neither does it work that way for English.
You have to make it a habit and you must stick to that habit every day.
This is the next most important thing I will tell you.
4. Open your mouth
The first thing you need to do is open your mouth.
Open your mouth and speak English.
But I can’t speak English, I hear you wail.
Well, you must speak some English or you wouldn’t be reading this article, would you?
Unless you are one of those unique students who can read, write and listen to English but cannot speak a single word.
Come on, you know some English. You know a few phrases and sentences.
You can at least introduce yourself in English.
Then do that.
Whenever you get the chance to introduce yourself in English to someone you must do it.
Every single time.
The best way to improve your English speaking ability is just to start speaking English.
Start today. Open your mouth and speak.
Now I know what you are worried about. You’re worried about making mistakes.
But don’t worry about that. Don’t worry about trying to be fluent. Don’t worry about the correct grammar and all those stupid rules that you have read over and over.
Just open your mouth and try to speak.
This is a real challenge for some students. Especially for students from East Asia — China, Korea and Japan. The idea of making a mistake scares them. Makes them feel terrible. They lose face.
But the thing is — we all make mistakes when learning.
Every single person.
No one is any different.
And here is some important news. Mistakes are good. Mistakes are great. Mistakes help us to learn.
Think about this. Every time you make a mistake it is like a little lesson to your brain telling you how to speak English and what to do.
5. Learn in chunks
I have seen many many students trying to expand their English vocabulary in the worst possible way.
Carrying a huge book around with them all day. The book weighs around five kilos or something.
And the title on the book.
3000 Essential English Words
The Big Book of English Words
All the English Words
The only things these students are exercising are their arm muscles from carrying such a heavy book around.
I will tell you this — this is a waste of time.
I saw a young guy on the subway one time. His eyes poring over his big book of English words. I saw his lips moving as he recited each word in his head. A cold bead of sweat making its way down his face.
I felt really sorry for him. Because it is such a waste of his precious time.
Now I will tell you a much better way to do it.
Learn English in chunks.
Chunks are small phrases, easy sentences to use, two- or three-word expressions that are easy to remember.
This is the best way to learn English and you can then start using these phrases and sentences immediately.
So for example.
You want to learn how to greet someone.
You can say hello.
But you can also say:
How’s it going?
These are very simple but there are much more complex phrases.
What you need to help you speak English more fluently are big chunks of words together — phrases, sentences, collocations.
Please check my article on learning English words right here.
6. Collocations are your friends
Collocations are small groups of words that go together. Usually a noun and a verb.
Now take that big book of English words and try to join words together.
A good technique is to go through a list of nouns and try to find verbs that can be used in conjunction with them.
Take the noun bicycle.
Now let’s find verbs that can be used in conjunction with bicycle.
We might have:
Ride a bicycle
Deliver by bicycle
Park my bicycle
Kicked off my bicycle
Sell his bicycle
By careful searching, you can find a few verbs to use with any noun. These are really valuable collocations that you can then use in your everyday English.
As an exercise try this now.
Take a list of nouns and find as many verbs to match with each noun.
Check my article on learning English with collocations right here.
7. Mnemonic Devices for learning
Mnemonic devices are things that you use to memorise words in English. They can be used to remember many things but for us let’s stick to English speaking.
You can make use of whatever you need or like to use.
Songs are great for this.
It is easy to play popular music on our smartphones. And some music apps show the song lyrics as the song is played.
Learn the song lyrics and sing along with your favourite tunes.
This is a great — and easy — way to learn to speak English.
Good for your pronunciation and for intonation too.
Pop songs especially use a lot of current phrases that are commonly used by English speaking people.
There are many other mnemonic devices that are used for spelling but for speaking I think songs are your best choice. Dig out your favourite tunes and learn all the words by heart. They will definitely help you with your spoken English.
8. Sing English
A lot of the English used in modern songs use everyday terms and colloquial English. This is very useful for you.
If these apps are unavailable in your country you can use other popular apps used in your own country.
On YouTube, you can select subtitles on or off. If you choose on then you can read the lyrics — the words to the song — as you are listening to the song itself.
If you have trouble turning subtitles on and off then use this site — www.lyrics.com. Just tap in the name of the song you are trying to find and then you can find the words to the song.
The first song to appear on the website is a song called Abracadabra by The Steve Miller Band. (Sorry, it’s quite an old tune from 1978). This song uses some phrases that might be a little confusing to you as you learn English. Phrases such as:
Abracadabra (the song’s title)
You got me spinning
I heat up
If you have trouble with these words and phrases you can look them up in your dictionary. Or if your dictionary doesn’t explain it to well you can use urbandictionary.com to help you. This will explain more contemporary terms.
This mnemonic device of listening to songs leads very nicely to Shadowing.
Shadowing is a very useful technique to help you with speaking in English.
The pioneer of this method was a man called Alexander Argüelles.
He used this method himself to learn fifty languages.
That’s right. Fifty.
These are the things you will need to do this fantastic exercise:
- your smartphone
- a recording of a text — could be a short podcast or some news or anything you choose
- the transcript of the recording — that is, all the words in the recording written out exactly
- a pair of earphones
It works like this:
Step 1 — Listen to the audio. If you have no idea what is being said then you need to choose something easier.
Step 2 — Listen to the audio a few more times. You should have a general grasp of what the people are saying. But maybe a few words that you cannot pick up.
Step 3 — Listen to the audio again but this time read the transcript to find all the difficult words. Look these words up in a dictionary and make note of them.
Step 4 — Listen to the text and repeat everything that the speakers say in the audio. There should only be a short delay between the speaker’s voice and your voice.
I warn you. This is not easy. It is hard.
But the rewards are big so stick with it.
By the time you finish step 4, you should be able to recite the whole text word for word. If you can’t then you haven’t completed step 4 yet.
10. Shadow harder
Then you move on to the next part. According to our good friend, Alexander, these next steps are vital to the shadowing technique.
Step 5 — Walk outdoors as swiftly as possible. Just by going outside and walking around it forces you to feel comfortable while using English. You are using English in the same way you might use your own language. You are doing natural things while speaking at the same time.
Step 6 — Maintain a perfectly upright posture. This is important. No slouching or bending your head down. Look up and be confident in what you are doing. This has a very powerful psychological effect.
Step 7 — Articulate thoroughly in a loud, clear voice. The psychological effect continues as your brain becomes accustomed to speaking English out loud while walking in a confident manner.
That is the shadowing technique in all of its steps.
11. Carry a notebook with you at all times
This is a hard habit to get into.
No one wants to do this as it is so inconvenient. The actual act of pulling out your notebook and pen every time you see a new word. Or you hear a new word and want to make a note of it.
But the fact is that this entire act is a great way to remember new words to use in your spoken English.
The physical act of:
- Reading or hearing a new word
- Taking out your notebook
- Writing the word down
All of these stages help you to remember the new words and then you are able to use them in your spoken English later on.
Try to build this as a habit.
Tell yourself — every time I read or hear a new word I will take out my notebook and make a note of it.
Make it into a habit and it will become second nature. You will start doing this without thinking about it.
Yes, it is hard to do at the beginning.
Yes, it is very inconvenient.
But you will definitely build your vocabulary for your spoken English.
12. Learn with others
It is hard to learn by yourself. Find a friend or a group of friends you can study together with.
If you are a student this should be very easy to do. Pick people that are motivated to improve their spoken English. Choose people that are keen to learn.
Once you have some people then go through all the things above and try to build them into your speaking English group.
Find an English Corner group and go there with your own group.
You could have your own Speaking English class with your group and take it in turns to be the teacher of the group.
Or hire a private tutor and split the costs.
Have classes and try to talk about a different topic each time.
13. Use your smartphone wisely
Smartphones are great. If used correctly.
You can use your smartphone to practice the shadowing technique described above. As you are walking around, listen to your favourite podcast and repeat back to yourself.
Listen to your favourite English songs and sing out loud.
You can use great apps for learning English.
As with everything most of these apps cost money. But it is a very convenient way to learn English and a very useful way to use your smartphone.
14. Smartphone as a mic
If talking to an English speaker record them using the mic.
If you have a conversation with someone you know who is a native English speaker you could ask to record them when they are talking.
Maybe they say something in English and introduce a new word or phrase to you. Ask if you can record them saying the word or phrase and explain what it means in English.
You can play it back at your convenience and learn new words and phrases.
Another thing you can do is to record your English lessons. Then play them back at your leisure.
The trick is to make use of the apps on your phone in a smart way. Instead of just using for trivial things we can use it to learn English.
15. Do interesting activities in English
When English students want to improve their spoken English the first thing they think of doing is join an English class.
This is a good idea. Providing the English class is good.
But I think a better idea is to do an activity that you really enjoy doing.
Maybe you are into cooking and love to spend time going over recipes and creating great meals in the kitchen.
What better way for you to improve your spoken English than to join a cooking club or group?
You are doing two things together.
First, you are doing something you enjoy doing.
Secondly, you are using English to communicate while doing the thing you enjoy.
And because you enjoy doing this activity you just want to be able to express yourself while doing it. English ceases to be a language you have to learn but just a means of communication.
Maybe you are not interested in cooking but you love playing football.
While playing football you will have to use terms to communicate with other players on the pitch. But after the game, the players often want to socialise together and talk about the game or football in general.
This is a great way to practice English.
16. Talk to yourself
Sometimes we don’t have anyone to practice English with. You may have a teacher but he is your teacher, not your friend. So you only see him in class.
You can’t talk to him every day because he is just not available.
If you have a native English speaking friend he or she is not with you every hour of the day.
Another alternative is to talk to yourself.
It may feel very strange at first but after the first two or three times, you will get accustomed to it.
How to do it
Pick a topic
Choose a topic that you want to talk about. Try to talk about this for some time. Maybe one minute in the beginning but later increase the time to two or three minutes.
Use your phone and record your own voice. What do you sound like? Are there any words that you can hear that sound mispronounced?
If so you know that you have some work to do.
Does your voice sound confident? Do you sound like you know what you are talking about?
Read out loud something from a book or from the news. Again, record your own voice and play it back.
Try to listen for any errors you might be able to detect.
Look at yourself in the mirror
As you speak out loud by yourself watch yourself in the mirror.
Try to sit upright and face yourself with confidence as you speak.
This will help you build your confidence to speak in English with others.
This may sound like a stupid thing to do. And reading back to myself, yes, it does sound like that.
But needs must.
If you have no one else to talk to in English then you only have yourself.
At least you are speaking out loud in English.
At least you are trying.
And that is all that matters.
Smile when you speak. Smiling adds confidence. Whether we want it or not! Smiling makes you more confident and so you will feel much more confident when you speak English while smiling.
18. Use all the resources
Back in my day when I was learning French at school, all we had were some dusty old French exercise books and some worn-out cassette tapes.
The cassettes were terrible. I think they were recorded back in the Triassic Period.
But that was all we had and so we used what we had.
You. You have much much more.
You have a better selection of books.
You have websites and blogs.
You have YouTube channels and Podcasts.
You also have apps and thousands of articles and online magazines and teachers who can give you a class a thousand miles away on Skype.
Use these resources. Use all of them.
The trick is to find what kind of resources work best for you.
We are all different. We learn in different ways.
So maybe you learn best from listening to podcasts. Or maybe from reading books. Or from using apps.
I don’t know.
But what you have to do is use all of them. Experiment with them until you find the one kind of learning that you like. The one that helps you the most.
Then stick with that.
By no means am I saying that speaking English is an easy thing for you to do. Of course, it is not. It takes work and commitment and time to build up English speaking skills.
But if you use some or all of the techniques that I outlined above then you can certainly make much headway and improvement.
Much of it comes down to building your confidence.
Techniques such as shadowing could help with that. Particularly as you walk outside reciting a text you have studied.
Building up key phrases can help too. Especially as they become automatic for you to use.
I also wrote a great guide on how to improve your English by watching movies right here.
But all of this requires work from you as the student.
I would not say that it is hard work but just a commitment to work every day on your spoken English.
Then you see development.